Plans, surprises in place for Alumni Weekend

Plans, surprises in place for Alumni Weekend

Plans, surprises in place for Alumni Weekend
What started as a simple weekend to recognize and reunite Phillies alumni has turned into a four-day extravaganza that has been in the works for nearly a year.

The annual Phillies Alumni Weekend will be begin Thursday, with nearly 50 former players representing eight decades returning to Citizens Bank Park to take part in a series of festivities. The club's vice president of alumni relations, Larry Shenk, said he has been working alongside Debbie Nocito and others since last September to plan this year's event.

"As soon as the schedule comes out in September, they give us a weekend that we're going to do it and then we'll start working on lists [of alumni]," Shenk said. "It really is something [the alumni] look forward to. The locals really look forward to it and so do the other alumni who we bring in."

The festivities open with an alumni luncheon, which was added to the program three years ago. One night later, on Friday, former catcher Mike Lieberthal will be inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame in an on-field ceremony before that night's game against the Cardinals.

Lieberthal, who holds the franchise record among catchers for games caught, hits and home runs, will be inducted in the presence of current Wall of Famers Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dick Allen, Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, Tony Taylor, Bob Boone, Dallas Green, Juan Samuel, Darren Daulton and John Kruk.

While there isn't a set theme this year -- last year's events featured a recognition of the franchise's no-hit pitchers and next year could be the 20-year reunion of the 1993 National League championship team -- there is still a solid structure to it. The list of alums, who will each be introduced on the field prior to Saturday's 7:05 ET contest, was carefully put together.

"We'll have the oldest living Phillie here, Freddy Schmidt, who is 96," Shenk said. "And we'll also bring in some people for the weekend who played with Lieberthal, so some of his former teammates will be here. In all, we plan to have about 45 alumni on the field for Saturday night."

With one Philadelphia catcher joining the Wall of Fame in Lieberthal and another being named to his first All-Star team this season in current backstop Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies plan to specifically recognize some of the franchise's top catchers. Ruiz will play a key role in Saturday night's pregame ceremony, as he will introduce the five All-Star catchers who will be on hand -- Ozzie Virgil, Bob Boone, Lance Parrish, Daulton and Lieberthal.

As has become the norm, the weekend will again be centered around the fans. Fans in attendance Friday will receive a commemorative print of Lieberthal, courtesy of Toyota, and alums will sign autographs and greet fans all weekend throughout the ballpark.

"We will surprise fans on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with plenty of alumni interaction," Shenk said. "We won't broadcast it, we won't promote it, but some alums will be signing autographs, some will be greeting fans at the game. They'll be out there with the fans, for sure."

That's one of the most important aspects of the weekend for Shenk, who said he realizes fans of all ages have followed one generation or another of Phillies alumni. For Shenk, it was the 1950 NL-champion Whiz Kids, but he knows younger fans are more likely to relate to Pat Burrell, a member of the 2008 World Series championship team who will also be on hand this weekend.

"It's important to incorporate the fans because they all have a following of the alumni," Shenk said. "When I was a kid it was the 1950 team, then it became the '80 team, then the '83, then the '93, and now we have the 2008 team. We have Burrell coming back as an alumnus this year and he isn't even that far removed from playing. So the fans really do relate to the wide array of alumni we have coming in."

There are no announced events for Sunday's 1:35 p.m. game, but instead the plan is simply to have the alumni surprise fans in various ways throughout the stadium -- assuming, of course, the weather permits. Last year, rain wiped out the Sunday game and a series of alumni surprises that were scheduled to go with it.

With nearly a year's worth of preparation poured into each Alumni Weekend, Shenk admitted he'll likely feel a slight weight lifted come Sunday night.

"It is kind of a relief [when it's over]," Shenk said. "You plan all this and it takes a great team of employees here that pitch in to do all the detail work -- pick up the alumni at the airport, take them to the hotel, transport them from the hotel to the ballpark, we take care of dinners.

"We really try to cater to them and make this an enjoyable weekend for all of the alumni, as well as the fans."

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.