Thursday, March 31, 2011

23:40 -- Opening Day

Let's Go Buccos!

Baseball season is here!
Being from Pittsburgh, that really has no meaning anymore. The Pirates are the laughingstock of professional sports, with their record-breaking consecutive losing seasons. But if I still lived there, I'm sure I would go to several games every year. I love live baseball! Being at the ballpark invokes all sorts of wonderful memories for me, pretty much all of them with my Pap.
Pap was a Pittsburgh sports fan in the truest sense. Even when Roethlisberger would engineer one of his famous last-second, game-winning drives Pap would rail about how it never should have come down to that. He was a Steelers season ticket holder all throughout the 70s Steel Curtain era and the much-maligned "rebuilding" years that was pretty much all of the 80s. He was actually there on that fateful late-December day in 1972, when Frenchy Fuqua collided with Jack Tatum causing Franco Harris to catch the deflected ball off his foot and score the touchdown which sealed the Steelers' first ever playoff victory. The Immaculate Reception was the foremost defining moment in Pittsburgh sports history and it was pure luck that Pap was still at the game to see it. He was always one to leave games early to "beat the crowd." But this particular game, he stayed till the very end and never once regretted it.
Pap and Grandma took me to my first Pittsburgh Pirates game when I was 3 or 4. I asked them when Terry Bradshaw and Jack Lambert were going to come out. Oh, the joys of dual sports in the same stadium.
Going to Pirate games were a regular thing for Pap and me. If there ever was a great promotion like a free cap, ball, pennant, Pirate Parrot doll...we were there. Buck Night was a monthly staple and there were a few seasons in which we didn't miss one. Your general admission was a buck and you got a hot dog and a coke for a buck. We always sat in Henry's section on the 200-level. (Henry was the usher who worked Pap's Steeler-ticket section.) Pap would slip him a few bucks and he'd give us the best seats he had until the real ticket holders showed up. We had to move around a lot.
The summer of 1986, Pap somehow had a connection in the Allegheny Club, which was the swanky restaurant/club inside Three Rivers Stadium. We went several times that year; the dessert buffet was legendary. I can still taste the chocolate mousse. We wouldn't watch much of the games from in there because it was enclosed in glass but it was still a real thrill. It was a who's-who of Pittsburgh celebrities, most notably the Chief himself, Art Rooney Sr. He sat right behind us one time and stopped Pap as we were leaving. He shook his hand and complimented him on his extremely well-behaved granddaughters. We were all completely starstruck.
Mr. Rooney died not long after that. I'm glad I got to see him in-person.
Another highlight of that year was the rookie phenom who joined the Pirates: Barry Bonds. Ok, half-his-current-size Barry Bonds. I'm pretty sure we saw his first homerun in Three Rivers.
I can name more players that were Pirates in my youth than I could right now. Andy Van Slyke, Jay Bell, Bobby Bonilla, Sammy Khalifa, Dave Parker, Jason Thompson, Omar Marino...all legends in my mind.
It's sad when we grow up. Even sadder when our heroes don't live forever. We lost Pap last September. I'm grateful for everything he ever did for me and I'm even happier he got to meet my daughter.
We're raising L.E. to appreciate sports the way we always have. She's been to three Reno Aces games and I'm sure there will be many more to come. I hope the first hot dog she ever has is at a ballpark. But I'm sure it cost more than a buck.


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