Colleague Brett Barnett’s two-part ode to Forbes Field certainly jogged my memory, and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without chiming in with my two cents. I was 15 when the Pirates played their last game at the Oakland ballyard, and I had attended my share of games there, at least for someone who lived 15 miles – but seemingly half a world – away. My first visit to Forbes came when I must have been 6 or 7, and we sat in the left-field bleachers. I remember nothing about the game itself, just that we brought meatball sandwiches and the field was the greenest thing I’d ever seen.
By 1970, though, I was deep into my Pirates fandom and knew exactly what was going on. So it wasn’t a surprise that I was among the 40,000-plus fans who made their way to 230 S. Bouquet St. for the doubleheader swan song against the Chicago Cubs on June 28. Admittedly, part of my attention was on the future – specifically on July 16th. That’s when the Bucs would be christening their new playground – Three Rivers Stadium – and I already had my tickets. I couldn’t wait to see the gigantic “electronic” scoreboard and sample the hot dogs from the Zum Zum concession stands.
But the Pirates’ last day at Forbes certainly would be a memorable one for everyone who was there. It wasn’t just that the club played two outstanding games, beating the Cubs 3-2 in the first game and 4-1 in the nightcap. It was the emotion that poured from thousands who spilled onto the field after Bill Mazeroski gobbled up a groundball off the bat of Don Kessinger and stepped on second base to force Willie Smith and end the second game.
I was among those who joined the party, going from spectator mode to pillager mode. I wasn’t sure what to grab, but I knew I wouldn’t leave the place empty-handed. I was there with my two cousins, and my younger one made a beeline for the giant scoreboard in left field, where it took him seemingly no time at all to climb halfway up and start sailing the square numbers down like green Frisbees. I, meanwhile, zeroed in on a patch of artificial turf that had been installed in foul territory, parallel to the third base line, atop a mechanized tarp that popped out of the ground when the field needed covered. Someone had a knife, and was cutting off pieces of that ersatz grass, and I made sure to grab a swatch to take home.
That was small game, though, compared to what some looters had in mind. I saw people with hand tools disassembling sections of the grandstand and walking out with them. I wasn’t satisfied with my Astroturf souvenir, though, and headed for the outfield. I had the brilliant idea of taking part of the living Forbes with me – specifically, a few patches of grass and some ivy from the outfield wall. People were tearing up the grass, so I grabbed a few hunks, and also took some ivy from the wall.
I hadn’t yet turned 16, and neither had either of my cousins, so we relied on good ol’ PAT to take us to the game that day. So, after we had our fill of watching people loot the grand dame Forbes, we headed to the bus stop and made our way back to Robinson Township.
I have no recollection of what happened to that turf from center field, but I held on to that small piece of artificial turf for years before it disappeared. I know exactly what happened to the vines from the outfield wall, though. We had an old refrigerator in our garage, and as soon as I got home, I carefully placed the vines in a plastic bag and put the bag in the freezer. I had the idea that if I could keep them alive – but dormant – I could regrow them when I was old enough to have my own place, and essentially have a piece of Forbes Field with me for the rest of my life.
Five years passed, and now and then I would look in on the vines, just to make sure they were still there. I never looked at them all that closely, and for all I know, they didn’t last a week. But to me, they remained alive, just waiting for me to spring them and kick-start the next chapter of their life. In the fall of 1975, I headed west to San Francisco, where I continued my college education after spending my first two years at what was then Point Park College. When I returned home for Christmas break, one of the first things I wanted to do was head to the garage and open the freezer door to check on the vines. When I got there, I was horrified. Someone had unplugged the freezer while I was away at school. And instead of seeing my future crop of Forbes Field vines in the freezer, I saw a plastic bag filled with rotten, brown vegetation.
It wasn’t quite as devastating as Game 5 of the 1972 NLCS with the Reds, but it was a close second.