Former Fightin’ Phils employees Abby and Travis Rutt discuss the impact the organization has had on them and their growing family. Interview by Ariane Cain.
In their 50th season of affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies, the longest running affiliation in baseball, the Reading Fightin’ Phils have clearly found a secret to success that not every minor league team finds. The organization and their home mean so much to the local community that Reading, PA has been officially named Baseballtown, and FirstEnergy Stadium is known as America’s Classic Ballpark.
The organization is truly something special, creating a family out of baseball fans from every major league team. Generations of families have visited the ballpark, and many look forward to the time when they can bring their children and grandchildren to enjoy the same experience they had as children.
“She’s already been to a game!” Abby says laughing, while imagining what the stadium will mean to their 4-month old daughter.
When Abby began working at the stadium in 2003, Travis had already been there for several years, beginning in 1997 or 1998.
“I would tell people it was like getting paid to hang out with your friends,” Abby said. “It was fun, it was really fun to work there. And you got to hang out with people, and you got to know, because the same people would come back every summer to work, so it was, you know, a chance to see all those people again. It was just fun.”
“I could really say the same thing,” Travis added. “It was fun. All my friends worked there; all my closest friends.”
What began for both as a simple summer job became much more. Both had been to the stadium numerous times throughout their childhoods, and had seen it evolve from a small, simple ballpark to the elaborate, innovative stadium it has become.
“Another thing that was really cool was getting to sing the National Anthem, actually numerous times,” Abby said. “It’s an opportunity I’m not sure I would have gotten if I didn’t work there.”
The organization invited her to sing the anthem at a game the Reading Phillies played at Citizens Bank Park. She also had the opportunity to sing before a game in which former Phillies second baseman Chase Utley played for the Reading Phillies on a rehab assignment. Singing for Utley easily makes the list of her favorite memories of the stadium.
What makes the stadium truly special, the two agree, is the tradition that surrounds it. As much as things change, there are pieces of the ballpark that always stay the same.
“They have season ticket holders that are senior citizens. And, you know, they had the singing usher who was there singing during the seventh-inning stretch until he got too sick to be able to get to the ballpark.”
The Singing Usher, Neal Bechtel, was such a staple at the ballpark that the Fightin’s introduced the Neal Bechtel Employee of the Year Award after his passing. A video of Bechtel singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is still played during the seventh-inning stretch several times each season as the organization’s way of honoring the tradition he became.
“I think people really hold on to that stuff,” Abby said, trying to sum up exactly what makes the small, familiar touches at the ballpark so special. “Because it’s such a tradition, it’s such a staple of this area.”
The tradition is one the Rutts are determined to keep alive by passing it down to their daughter, and hoping that the old ballpark becomes as special to her as it has to them.