The Pittsburgh Pirates’ play on the field this year made me happy.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ call on Spirit Day for an end to bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered young people made me very happy.
On October 9, I watched in Louisville as the Pirates improbable season came to an end.
As have others who bleed black and gold, I have seen the Buccos endure a challenging stretch. After twenty years of futility that included promising beginnings and late season collapses in 2011 and 2012, I did not have high hopes for this year.
Things began well. That has happened before. On April 28, we held first place in our division.
The season continued and the Pirates played well. By mid-August, a winning season seemed likely. The day after Labor Day, the Pirates won game 81, guaranteeing the first non-losing season since 1993. And that made me happy. I dared to dream of the playoffs.
Four straight losses followed. Three of those games St. Louis won. Those losses knocked us back in the race for first-place. They did not eliminate us but it made a wild-card spot seem the most logical possibility.
Gerrit Cole, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon combined for a four-hit shutout on September 9. Win 82. A winning season. And that made me happy.
The wins kept coming. We lost some, too. Meaningful Pittsburgh Pirates baseball in September made me happy.
September 23 brought the win that clinched a wild card spot. There would be Buctober! And that made me happy.
Five days later we beat Cincinnati to gain the home field advantage in the wild card game. And that made me happy.
My friend Bob came by with Iron City Beer and on October 1, the Pirates beat Cincinnati again to advance in the playoffs. And that made me happy.
The Pirates met St. Louis in the divisional series. We took a two game to one lead. Then St. Louis won the last two games and the series and our season ended. And that made me sad.
Taking the year as a whole, I am happy. The Pirates played exciting baseball and achieved far more than I had expected.
However, on October 17, the Pittsburgh Pirates organization did something that made me very happy. They joined Major League Baseball and other teams to offer a game-changing statement of support through social media yesterday for GLAAD’s annual Spirit Day, asking fans to take a stand on bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
They added a purple frame to their Facebook icon. I should note that the Pittsburgh Penguins also participated in Spirit Day.
As do all people and institutions from the dominant culture, the Pittsburgh Pirates struggle with issues of race and diversity. But they have done things right as well. On Sept. 1, 1971, the Pirates became the first Major League franchise to field a starting lineup of nine players who were either African-American or Hispanic/Latino.
My favorite Pirate is Roberto Clemente – an amazing player and an even greater humanitarian and human rights activist. Each year since 1973, Major League Baseball has presented the Roberto Clemente Award to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team. The award recognizes those individuals who truly understand the value of helping others.
The Pirates’ stand for justice and dignity made me very happy.
Then I learned that the Pirates had taken such a stand before in 2011:
Fifty-eight years ago, on Thursday, October 13, 1960, my father took a day off and took me out of my first-grade class.
From Neville Island we journeyed to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.
There we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the New York Yankees in Game 7 of that year’s World Series (an interesting name now, but even more so at that time when all the teams vying for the title were located in the United States).
The heavily favored Yankees had won 10 pennants in 12 years. They won three games in this series: 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. The Pirates won the other three games by much closer scores: 6-4, 3-2, and 5-2.
Game 7 proved a classic. The Pirates took the lead. The Yankees came back and went ahead. The Pirates regained the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Yankees tied it in the ninth.
Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth inning for the Pirates. He took the first pitch for a ball. Then he drove the second pitch over the left-field wall. And the Pirates were the champions.
How much do I remember because I saw the game in person? How much do I remember because I have seen the pictures and the film and heard the stories? I will never know.
On the anniversary of the game, Pirates fans gather in Pittsburgh to relieve, remember, and recreate.
In 2009, a kinescope of the telecast was discovered in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar. Crosby owned a portion of the Pirates. A DVD appeared with the game. Tricia gave me a copy as a gift.
Tonight I celebrated the past in the present as on the anniversary, I watched the game all the way until, “There’s a drive into deep left field, look out now… that ball is going, going gone! And the World Series is over! Mazeroski… hits it over the left field fence, and the Pirates win it 10–9 and win the World Series!” Mel Allen on NBC TV
And I remembered my father. And my spirit warmed. And the smile has not left my face or my heart.
Tomorrow night, the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Baseball Division Series. A Pirates win captures the series for them and moves them into the League Championship series for the first time since 1992.
When the Pirates take the field to begin the game, my high school friend Lois will be there with her father.
Lois and I attended Grove City High School in Western Pennsylvania. We had many classes together, including band where she played clarinet and I played the baritone horn. Upon graduation, Lois went to Penn State. I went to Westminster. She has landed in the field of library science. I followed a call into ministry. We lost touch fairly quickly after that.
Our class celebrated its 40th anniversary last year and Lois found me on Facebook. Through that medium, we have discovered that we both still bleed black and gold. The Pirates. The Steelers. They were our teams in high school. They are our teams now.
We each shared our support for the Pittsburgh teams with our fathers. Each of our fathers worked for the public school system.
My dad was the Assistant Superintendent of schools until his death in 1974. And a very good musician. He started his career as a public school instrumental music teacher.
Mr. Thompson, Lois’ father, was our band director. And a very good musician.
Mr. Thompson and my father were good friends. As in any work situation, friendships form. There was a whole group of folks who were friends with my dad. But my dad was especially close to all the instrumental musicians in the system, Mr. Thompson among them. My father played for them when they needed help. Mr. Thompson played in the town band when my dad directed it.
My father and I went to Pirates games – along with my mother, brother, aunt, and grandfather. We made it a family affair. I know now that something similar happened in the Thompson household.
After the Pirates won on Friday, Lois sent me a message saying that she has tickets for Game 4 in Pittsburgh and that she will take her dad along. He is 87.
While that pricks my heart a little thinking of all the games my dad and I never saw, it also brings back a whole host of great memories. And I am really thrilled for Lois and Mr. Thompson. His first name is Grant but I can’t call him anything else but Mr. Thompson even after all these years.
Pretty cool. I count on Lois and Mr. Thompson to bring the Pirates home.
See you along the Trail.
A word about the photo. Yes. My father and I attended Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. We lived on Neville Island at the time. Dad took a vacation day and took me out of my first grade class. We were there for the Kubek hop, for Hal Smith’s three-run home run that put the Pirates ahead in the 8th inning and for Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run in the 9th inning. We saw history. And the most important word in that sentence then, and now, is “we.”
In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first playoff win since 1992 (6-2 over Cincinnati), comments of pride and joy have filled my Facebook feed. I already know that some of my friends supported the Bucs. Tonight I discovered many new fans. Long-term fans, or hidden fans, or fans of baseball captured for a moment by a team ending a 20-year streak of losing seasons and making the playoffs at the same time.
One friend posted a video clip of Roberto Clemente, the Pirates’ great right fielder from 1955 until his untimely death in 1972. A great human being, Clemente died on a humanitarian mission to aid the people of Nicaragua.
Another friend posed a question in response: “You saw Clemente play?”
To which I respond, “I did.”
At Forbes Field and at Three Rivers Stadium, I had the privilege to see Clemente play with skill and grace and passion that few brought to the game.
After 20 years of frustration, the Pittsburgh Pirates finally played meaningful baseball games in September. The Pirates remained in the race for a playoff spot.
We also won meaningful baseball games in September. And tonight, we finally won enough that we clinched a spot in the playoffs. It remains unclear what that spot will be. Most likely it will be one of the wildcard spots. Hopefully the home spot. The wildcard teams play one game with the winner advancing and the loser ending their season. That makes the home team advantage all the more important.
The next five games will decide that. For now, we are in. And that is good.
There will be meaningful baseball in October. Or as the Pittsburgh Pirates Twitter account has apparently dubbed the days ahead: Buctober!
I am not sure I would have asked the question. Too many people have experienced abuse, abandonment, failure to love, and more from their fathers. Too many fathers have died too young. Too many wounds remain unhealed.
“What is your favorite memory of your father or your father figure?” Bob Brashear, pastor of West-Park Presbyterian Church, asked near the end of his sermon today.
My first thoughts went to those who had negative experiences of their fathers. I felt my heartstrings tightened as I considered the profound pain the simple question could touch.
Images of my father, gone too long, filled my head and heart. He was not perfect. None of us are. But he was a good, good man who loved me and my brother and sister well.
Memories came at me as thick as gnats on a hot, sultry night. When it came my turn to speak, I went with my first memories:
“Baseball. Playing catch in the back yard. Going to games. Baseball. In Pittsburgh.” I remembered, although I did not share, that as I child, when I would have to go to bed before a Pirates game finished, I would wake up in the morning to find a piece of paper with the score written in my father’s handwriting.
Memories. Blessed memories. As I rejoice in mine, my heart goes out to those who know pain.
Happy Father’s Day to fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, and all, male and female alike, who have filled the role of fathers.
Recovering, returning Pittsburgh Pirates fan that I am, I decided to subscribe to Major League Baseball’s Game Day Audio so I could listen to games. A friend posted on Facebook that the Pirates play in Detroit with Verlander pitching for the Tigers while we send Liriano to the mound.
The Pirates success combined with that match-up and the reality that I will spend most of today inside led me to the conclusion that I should find a way to listen. I went to purchase a subscription and discovered, to my surprise, that my previous subscription had automatically renewed.
On the one hand, this is good. Come 1:00 I will listen. On the other hand, this would have been nice to know in advance. I did not realize that they set up subscriptions in such a fashion. I need to go back and read the fine print. On the other, other hand, after reading the fine print, I need to learn how I could control this in the future.