“Play Ball!”

Now that Baseball season has started, there is an excitement in the air of possibly a third consecutive appearance of the Phillies in the World Series.  I’ve been following the Phils and enjoying baseball since I was 9 years old in 1974.   Some years I’ve had more enthusiasm than others, but opening day has always generated excitement to me.  Every team at every level of baseball has the hopes of a championship when the umpire yells “Play Ball” on opening day.  The thrill of going to a game is a feeling that can’t be put into words.  Even the hot dogs taste better at the ball park than they do at home.  1974 my Dad took me to my first game at the Vet where our Phils were playing the San Francisco Giants.  The tickets were General Admission and if I remember correctly, about $2.50 each through some promotion with Ginos.  After walking through the turnstiles, I still remember how green the turf looked as opposed to television, but anything would have looked greener since the Holmes household didn’t get our first color TV until Christmas 1975.  So, needless to say, it was a real treat to see Veterans Stadium in person.  We began to climb up to our seats, a long climb, up in the “nose-bleed” section….up to the famous 700 level “Yellow Seats” at the Vet.  From there I looked down at my heroes, Schmidt, Bowa, Cash, Luzinski, and even Willie Montanez.  The players didn’t have names on their uniforms then; I had to identify them by their number only.  The Phillies ended up beating the Giants and Mike Schmidt hit 2 home runs for my very first major league baseball game.  There is nothing like the thrill of a home run in baseball.  A couple of years later, I was playing in the Mount Holly Little League and I was fortunate enough to experience the thrill of hitting a home run.  It was my third year in the Mount Holly Little League and after two years in the minors, I finally made it to the majors.  Now I was the furthest thing from being a superstar in Little League, but I was extremely thrilled to hit 2 homers in my Little League career.  We had some great hitters that put them over the fence routinely like Paul Lisella, Mark Demko, my teammate Keith Atkinson, and my buddy Jon Barger who was putting them over the fence left and right.  He even had the nerve to hit one off of me one game when I was pitching!  My most memorable moment in sports happened one day when we were playing Methvin’s Used Auto Parts and a young man named Brad Joyce was pitching.  I was feeling good because at that time, my only home run came off of Brad in a previous game.  Very few times in my short athletic career did I feel extremely confident……..this was one of those times.  I was warming up in the on-deck circle and ready to take my swing.  Up to bat was Keith Atkinson, and……….the bases were loaded!!!  My adrenaline was flowing and I remember thinking to myself, Keith, whatever you do, keep the bases loaded.  While taking my swings and waiting for my turn at bat, I turned to my Father, who was sitting on the other side of the fence.  He called me over and told me that if I hit a home run, he would take the entire team out for pizza.  Now the pressure was on……I had to do it.  And to make matters worse, all my teammates in the dugout heard Dad’s proposition and were really gunning for me to belt one.  Now I had to really focus and wait for Keith to finish his at-bat.  Well, Keith did the absolutely worst thing that could have happened……..…to me.  Keith launched a pitch deep over the fence for a grand-slam home run.  I guess I should have been happy for Keith and for the team, but, being a 12 year old and probably being a bit selfish, I was somewhat disappointed.  Nonetheless, I stepped up to the plate, and sure enough, I sent an early Brad Joyce pitch way deep, over the center field fence and into the Rancocas Creek for a home run, giving our team back-to-back home runs.  It was a thrill to be able to hit a follow up homer………..I still remember trotting around the bases and it feeling almost like I was floating, like a dream-like, euphoric feeling as I touched home plate.  And, the question I’m sure you are all wondering……Yes, my Dad did treat the team to pizza after our next ball game.  Only the game of baseball, and the thrill of a home run, can bring these two different wonderful memories, (a 2 home run game by Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, and a center field home run in Mount Holly by a chubby Little Leaguer, Johnny Holmes), together……..and bring a warm and happy memory that I will never forget after all these years.  So………let’s Play Ball!!!!!

An 11 year old "Holmsey" posing for the camera before the baseball game with the Mount Holly Little League

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