CLEARWATER, Fla. - Hulk Hogan made his first trip to Spectrum Field on Friday.
But it wasn't his first trip to The Spectrum.
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The retired pro wrestling legend, a Tampa Bay area resident, visited with Phillies players, watched batting practice and swapped stories about performing in Japan with Charlie Manuel, who hit 189 home runs while playing six seasons in that country from 1976 to 1981.
Hogan's face lit up when he recalled his many trips to The Spectrum in South Philadelphia, starting in 1978 when he was one of wrestling's bad guys.
"I just remember the ramp to the back of the building, I used to get sick to my stomach thinking about leaving the building because the fans would be trying to turn my car over when I was a bad guy," Hogan said.
"The good memories at the Philadelphia Spectrum: It was so loud. It used to make my jaws water. It's kind of like I'd smell good food or something, my jaws would water. It would get so loud in the middle of that ring with that rumble in the building that it would make my jaws water. And then if I was getting beat up by the bad guy, I would reach out for help, the fans would try to come towards the ring.
"Nothing but good memories about Philly. When they were actually tearing The Spectrum down, they called me and told me they were tearing it down. And they were trying to schedule one last event in there and I said, ‘Guys, I don't wrestle anymore.' But they called me because they wanted to do one last event. I miss that city. I miss the building. Nothing but great memories."
Hogan, 64, played Little League and high school baseball in Tampa.
"In 1966, we almost went to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with the Interbay Little League team but we lost 1-0 because I threw a ball real low and the cleanup hitter golfed it over my head in the bottom of the sixth inning," he said. "We never made it to Williamsport but we were on our way."
Hogan said baseball was his first love. He broke his elbow throwing a ball in high school and, as he said, "segued to wrestling." He eventually became the most recognized pro wrestler in the world and a multi-time champion.
Despite living in the area most of his life, Hogan had never visited Phillies camp before. Bullpen coach Jim Gott helped set up the visit and Hogan addressed a bunch of Phillies pitchers and posed for pictures with them.
"My whole dream was to be a pitcher in the big leagues," he said. "My dad was a huge baseball fan. That never happened and a lot of these younger kids who are playing here today weren't even alive when I won the first World Title in 1983.
"They're great kids. Very respectful. I was just real general with these guys: stay healthy and keep doing what you're doing. Just stay on track. I didn't want to go into some big long dissertation or preach to them or anything. These kids are on track."