Retired baseball broadcaster Phil Wood has a lot of sports memorabilia

Date:

On a spring day 41 years ago, a few hardy Minnesotans engaged in a bit of …. well, what would you call it? Urban exploration? Impromptu archaeology?

“I would call it vandalism, probably,” Phil Wood said with a laugh.

You may know Phil from his years talking sports on the Washington and Baltimore airwaves. We were at his Reisterstown, Md., home. A blueprint was spread out on his dining room table, its curling corners held down by autographed baseballs in plastic display cubes.

The blueprint was dated Nov. 15, 1956, and labeled “National Memorial Stadium.” It’s an early stab at what would eventually become Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

And how did it end up with Phil? Well, some time around 1996, Phil got a call from a guy who said that on April 3, 1982, he and his buddies had celebrated the opening of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome by grilling in the parking lot — not the parking lot of the Metrodome but the parking lot of the previous Minnesota Twins ballpark: Metropolitan Stadium.

“They found an open door and went into Met Stadium,” Phil said.

That stadium would eventually be demolished — the Mall of America is built on its bones — but on this day it was a veritable time capsule, full of stuff that had been left behind. The trespassers found their way into the old office of team owner Calvin Griffith and liberated some souvenirs, including the blueprint. Years later, one of the guys decided Phil might like it.

RFK Stadium was home to Washington’s NFL franchise, of course, and the Senators and the Nationals. The city’s NFL team left for a new venue after the 1996 season. The Nationals played their last game there in 2007. But the stadium is back in the news as local and national politicians consider what might become of the site. People seem to agree it can’t be just a football stadium, in use barely a dozen times a year.

That’s what makes looking at this design, the work of Dallas architects George L. Dahl and Walter W. Cook, so interesting. It’s reminiscent of RFK — an open-roofed stadium with a field that accommodates baseball and football — but with some extras.

There’s a 7,500-seat ballroom with a stage and a balcony. It would be a fine place to see a symphony. The concourse accommodates exhibition space for conventions. Rather than acres of asphalt for parking, there are multistory parking lots.

Even this wasn’t as grand as what Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-Miss.) envisioned. Bilbo led an early congressional effort to build a memorial stadium in Washington. A week after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, Bilbo recommended a stadium be named after the president.

Whatever it was to be called, Bilbo wanted it big, with seating for at least 175,000 people.

“He thinks anything smaller wouldn’t justify a national memorial stadium,” J.O. Day, counselor for the Senate District Committee, told the Washington Evening Star.

There was also speculation that the stadium might have a unique “floating” roof. Wrote the Star: “Imagine several acres of roof suspended by air, raised on hot days and lowered on cold nights by the flip of a switch.”

Congress authorized the construction of a stadium in 1957. What was then known as D.C. Stadium opened in the fall of 1961. It was renamed in 1969, after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy the previous year.

The blueprint is just one item in Wood’s large and varied collection of sports memorabilia, most of it related to D.C. baseball.

“This is Harmon Killebrew’s road jersey from 1960,” Wood said as we entered his basement. “This is a Mickey Vernon jersey. Here’s a Roy Sievers 1957 jersey and an Eddie Yost from 1958.”

Resting against the wall was a set of wooden seats from Griffith Stadium, the Senators’ old home. Before they wound up with Wood, they were in Rosecroft Raceway, which recycled some of Griffith Stadium’s seating when the ballpark was demolished.

Wood, 72, grew up in the District and Northern Virginia. He was 4 or 5 when his father took him to his first Senators game at Griffith Stadium on Georgia Avenue NW.

“What impressed me was I could raise my hand and a man would bring me an ice cream sandwich,” he said.

Wood soon began to appreciate baseball on a more complex level.

“The Senators were never particularly good when I was growing up,” Wood said. “My dad said to me, ‘If this is going to be your team, understand they’re not going to win all the time. The joy is just in being at a major league baseball game. If your team wins, it’s like getting two things for one. It’s a bonus.’”

Speaking of bonuses: By 2019, Wood had decided he would retire from his postgame Nationals’ radio gig after that season.

“They graciously won the World Series for me,” he said.

The team was nice enough to give Wood something else for his collection: a World Series ring.

Share post:

Subscribe

Popular

More like this
Related