PASTOR Glen Spaulding delivers his weekly sermons in Deliverance Evangelistic Church from a pulpit that stands where the Whiz Kids stood, at home plate, bats in hand, when they took on the New York Yankees in 1950.
The neighborhood around long-gone Shibe Park, on Lehigh Avenue at 20th Street, is much changed since the last matchup between the Yanks and the Phils.
Bonita Ray lives on 20th Street, just past the old right-centerfield wall. She has lived in the area for the last 63 years.
When the Phillies took on the Yankees in 1950, Ray's family members came from out of town.
"My husband bought $500 worth of tickets [to take family members to the game]," Ray said. They came from Akron, Ohio; Cleveland; Detroit; Buffalo, N.Y., and New York City.
Phillies fans couldn't watch the games from the rooftops of houses along 20th Street, unlike Athletics fans who had watched World Series matchups there during the 1910s to '30s. A's owner Connie Mack raised the rightfield wall from 10 feet to 33 feet in 1933 to keep fans from watching for free. They called it Mack's "spite fence."
But Ray and her family still had to duck and dodge the balls that occasionally sailed over the wall.
"One time, a ball hit me in the chest, and they had to take me to the emergency room," said her daughter Anita, 62, a retired claims adjuster who lives in New York. Teams from bigger towns meant more aggravation for the neighbors.
"They knew how big the crowds would be, based on how popular the opponents would be," Ray said. "Neighborhood residents would put chairs out, so when our parents came home, they would have a place to park."
The Phillies played their last game at Connie Mack Stadium (Shibe Park was renamed in 1953) in October 1970, beating the Montreal Expos, 2-1.
A fire in August 1971 tore through the abandoned stadium's offices and "Billows of smoke rolled skyward . . . [as] sheets of corrugated metal fell to 21st Street from high on the superstructure of the upper deck" according to a Daily News story, which noted that the fire started 2 minutes after the rededication of Connie Mack's statue at Veterans Stadium.
The heavily damaged stadium sat empty for 5 years, serving as a de facto dumping ground, before finally being razed in 1976. The blocks around the stadium became known as the "11 Forgotten Blocks."
By the time Deliverance Evangelistic aquired the land in the 1980s, it was "desolate and blighted," said Martha Addison, a church member and employee for nearly 40 years.
"There were old tires, old mattresses, stoves, refrigerators," said Addison, remembering the site before it got cleaned up. "It took us 6 weeks just to clear the land."
Before Deliverance built the church, it built "Hope Plaza Shopping Center," on Lehigh Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets. The plaza now hosts a game store, a pharmacy, a bank, a supermarket, Philly's only two-story McDonald's, and a clothing boutique.
"The stores created a lot of jobs for people in the neighborhood," Addison said.
Deliverance, which held services in an old movie theater on Broad Street near Wyoming, built the current structure in the late '80s. The church, which seats 5,100 people, took 2 years to build, said the Rev. Royal Camps, an associate pastor.
According to Camps, Benjamin Smith, the church's founder, "was instrumental in everything that went on" in the design of the church, including the location of the pulpit at home plate.
Bars that stood on 21st and 23rd streets near Cambria, and 20th Street and Lehigh Avenue, have all closed, because of the church's practice of "street witnessing," Addison said. Churches, beauty salons and corner stores stand where the bars used to be.
There's not much around to remind people of the park's place as a touchstone of local baseball lore - just an historic marker.
But there are moments.
"A lot of people come to see [the site], because it's a historical thing," Gerri Edwards said as she left church Sunday. And it's convenient when she invites friends to church, too.
She tells people, "Come to my church - it's where Connie Mack Stadium used to be."