This post has taken some time for me to write and has been the hardest one for me to finish. I had the pleasure of getting to know Neale Bechtel during my two summers as a seasonal associate for the Reading Fightin’ Phils.
Known around Baseballtown as the “singing usher”, Neale was the kind of person who was liked by everyone. As a ticket taker he was one of the first people to greet fans at every game and made an instant connection with each and every one of them. Even after years of working as a beer vendor, an usher, and a ticket taker, Neale showed up each day ready to share his love and excitement for baseball with the hundreds of fans who visited Baseballtown every season. Over the years I had always heard Neale perform “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning strecth, but I never got the chance to meet him. As a seasonal associate, it was part of my job to make sure that Neale was ready for his shining moment on the field.
Every game I would walk down to the batting tunnel where the ticket takers were carefully counting each and every ticket stub and tell Neale that it was almost time for him to sing. I would bring around the golf cart and take him to the back of the stadium where we would meet up with the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor who would drive Neale around the field on his special three-wheeled bicycle. After dropping Neale off, I drove the golf cart to the third base side of the ballpark to pick him up after he was finished singing and I would drive him back to the parking lot. On most nights, Neale’s lovely wife would be waiting for us at their car and she would help him out of the golf cart and into the car.
For two full summers I would chauffer Neale to the back of the stadium and then back to his car and I must say it was one of the best parts of my job. It almost felt as if I was driving a celebrity around. Everywhere Neale went in that ballpark there was someone waiting to say hi or shake his hand. There was a group of fans who would stand at the top of the stadium each night and shout “Hi Neale!” down to him as we drove back around to his car and Neale would shout hi back. Neale was always happy and whenever I would show up to tell him it was time to sing, he would say hi and sing my name in a way that is hard to describe, but fit his personality perfectly. He would always ask how I was doing and he shared stories from his many years working in baseball.
This past summer when I learned that Neale has passed away, I felt that I had lost a friend. I did not know Neale well for an extended period of time, but the time that I did know him will always have a place in my heart. Neale was a constant presence at Reading Phillies and Fightin’ Phils games and has made an impact on thousands of fans over the years. He will be remembered every time the seventh inning stretch rolls around and will always hold a special place in the hearts of Baseballtown fans.
Here’s to you Neale,