On July 24, 1982 I attended my first Pirates
’ game. At the time, following the Pirates from Wilmington, DE meant mostly reading box scores. Unless they were playing the Phillies
or the Braves
, I could not watch them. The day of the game my father found out that it was "Picture Night" at Three Rivers which meant we were allowed on the field before the game. Three Rivers was criticized in its time, but as a little kid I thought the stadium was an amazing place. Three Rivers was a "cookie cutter" stadium with artificial turf, but these were things adults complained about; I was psyched to be there, and I was even more psyched to be standing on the crappy artificial turf. It was really cool to see the players up close and mingling with the crowd, and I especially remember Kent Tekulve being affable and friendly. Despite a prohibition on asking for autographs, I had my pen and program out, and I managed to get a couple of signatures, but I didn’t get nearly as many as the kid next to me. He had a broken arm, and every player signed his cast. This led me to think (for the only time in my life) "I wish my arm was broken."
It was cool seeing all the players up close, but there was one player in particular who I wanted to see; Willie Stargell. He strolled up to our place on the line and he stopped in front of me. I put my small white hand up, and he engulfed it with his hand. I can still see him gazing down on me with a friendly grin. As he let go of my hand and walked away I was awestruck. I remember thinking about how I had physically touched greatness. So, at this point the whole night is a win no matter what. I went out to Pittsburg just hoping to see Willie, and I got to shake his hand, but would I get to see him play?
The game that night was against the Braves which was interesting because I had often watched them on TBS. We were sitting not far behind the Braves dugout, and I got Dale Murphy’s autograph which was also cool. The game turned out to be a good one with Don Robinson hitting a homerun (right after my friend’s dad said "This guy can hit"), but the Bucs were down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Mike Easler and Tony Peña led off the inning with back to back singles. As Dale Berra walked to the plate my attention was on the Pirates’ dugout. Would Willie pinch hit? Dale Berra popped out, and Willie was at the bat. The focus of the crowd heightened as he strode to the plate and began taking his windmill practice swings. Gene Garber left a ball out over the plate and Stargell hit a towering fly ball towards the fence. The electricity I felt when that ball was in the air is something I will never forget. It was if we were all trying to will that ball over the fence, to give Willie number 476, to let him pass Musial, but the ball died on the warning track. Right fielder Claudell Washington caught the ball with his back next to the wall, and Easler tagged up to score what would be the final run of the night as the Bucs lost 4-3.
When the 1982 season was over I told my dad that 3rd place at 84-78 was "pretty good". He responded that "Nobody remembers who comes in third place". Well, I do. Little did I know how rare seeing the Pirates play relevant baseball in July would become. My thirty years as a Pirates fan have not been the easiest; the drug trials, Francisco Cabrera’s single, and The Streak, have taken their toll, but at least I don’t have to depend on box scores in the paper to follow the Bucs, and thanks to Bucsdugout I never lack for info on the Pirates. Here’s to the hope that we are on the cusp of more great memories. Let’s go Bucs!
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