Game 25: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates had originally played in Recreation, Union and Exposition Parks, all in what was then Allegheny City. Allegheny City was annexed by Pittsburgh in December 1907. In 1909 the club moved to Forbes Field where they remained until 1970 when they shifted to Three Rivers Stadium. Then in 2001 the club shifted just down the road to the beautiful PNC Park. Of the many great ballparks that sprung up around the league in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, this park stands out as one of the best for creating an experience that reflects the glory days of baseball.
It is a very small and intimate park holding just over 38,000 seats (second only to Fenway Park) and it has only two decks with over two thirds of the seats in the lower level. This modern ballpark is only slightly larger than the old Forbes Field and the steel trusses, masonry arches and terra- cotta tiles exhibit a careful attention to detail as they successfully attempt to emulate the old Forbes Field. The distinctive “toothbrush” style light towers are also a replica from the old stadium.
We were doing our travelling in a car that belongs to Kitty’s mother (known as Busia, which is Polish for grandma). We just discovered that it has a handicapped permit in the glove box. We quickly discovered that while Pittsburgh had an efficient public transport system, it unfortunately did not operate on Sundays. Of course we went to the game on a Sunday. We decided to drive to downtown Pittsburgh and walk to the game. We were able to get quite close thanks to Busia’s handicapped permit and a strategically placed walking stick on the back window ledge.
Similar to Cincinnati we found ourselves strolling across a bridge spanning a huge river walking to the stadium. The river was the Allegheny which joins with the Monogahela and at their confluence form the Ohio River (thus creating the name for the old Three Rivers Stadium). The walk took us across the bright yellow Roberto Clemente Bridge which was closed to cars on game day to make a really nice entrance to the ball park and takes you straight to a statue of Clemente himself situated at the main home base entrance. This is of significance in that the club have further shown their links to their history by incorporating sand from each of Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium and from Clemente’s original ball park in Puerto Rico into the statue.
Once seated in the stadium you had fantastic views of downtown Pittsburgh, which really is a vibrant city plus a great view of the river walk which runs down the Allegheny. Most people take the stroll over the bridge to get into the stadium, but some even come by boat and park up (I believe moor might be the correct nautical term) and take the two minute walk from the river itself.
As I alluded to, the Bucs were in the middle of something of a slump and had lost four of their last five games. There was a need to put their show back on track and surely the hapless Milwaukee Brewers would be just the place to start. The Brewers were at 59-67 for the season and for all intents and purposes not involved in any pennant action. There is a tradition in PNC Park that the Jolly Roger is flown at the conclusion of home victories. The Pirates faithful were hoping that it would be fluttering proudly by five o’clock.
Milwaukee Brewers……..000 331 000 - 7
Pittsburgh Pirates…….…000 000 000 - 0
Pittsburgh were shut out for the fourth time in the month of August and lost for the fifth time in six games. Milwaukee was able to get the better of starting pitcher, left hander Eric Bedard in the middle innings to secure a comfortable victory. Bedard did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, but when he did, it started a string that would be brief but lethal for the Pirates.
With two outs, the Brewers Corey Hart singled to left field, Jonathan Lucroy singled to right and Carlos Gomez homered to left on the first pitch to make it 3-0. The Brewers added three more runs in the fifth innings, including a two out, two run home run from Aramis Ramirez over the right field wall to make it 6-0. This particular wall was built to again honour home town hero Roberto Clemente as it is built at exactly 21 feet to commemorate Clemente’s number – 21.
That sixth run was the end for Bedard and while the relievers allowed only one more run (Jean Segura) through the rest of the afternoon, the feeble Pirates offence made sure that seven runs would be more than adequate for the Brewers to inflict another defeat on them. I have mentioned Steve Blass and his dreaded “disease”. He was by now a very accomplished radio and television announcer at all the Pirates home games. There is a Sunday tradition around all major league ball parks that in the middle of the seventh innings, as well as the seventh innings stretch and obligatory singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballpark”, since 9/11 there is also a rendition of God Bless America. Here at PNC there is another tradition and that is Steve Blass throwing out giveaways from his announcer’s box window. I think that there was no case of the yips and everything went pretty much where he aimed it.
The result left the Pirates two games out of the wild card berth and needing to win thirteen more games to avoid a 20th consecutive losing season. The Milwaukee Brewers advanced to 16 games behind the division leader, the high flying Cincinnati Reds. The Jolly Roger was not required.
Prior to this game I had been contacted by baseball fanatic, Donald Lancaster. Don is a retired school teacher from Pennsylvania and was interested in my venture. I contacted Don and we watched the game together. He was a member of the local sabbermetrics group, but was more interested in the social history of the game. Throughout the match he kept score, like I used to do at cricket matches back in the day. He had been fortunate to view games throughout the Pirates history at the three more recent stadiums of Forbes, Three Rivers and of course here at PNC. Don was able to supply me with some great yarns.
My favourite was the 13 October story. This was the day, back in 1960 at Forbes Field, when the Bucs last won the World Series on the back of a Bill Mazeroski walk off home run. In 1970 the Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium, but on 13 October one faithful fan grabbed a tape of the 1960 victory and went back to the site of the old Forbes Field and re-lived the moments of Mazeroski and Pittsburgh winning that game. Since then, on 13 October the number of people carrying out this little ritual has grown. In 2010 on the fiftieth anniversary, Mazeroski himself and a number of his former team mates turned up to re-enact the occasion. This is a really unique occurrence and I would love to be able to do it. Unfortunately because of my travel schedule it is impossible, but a great little yarn. My thoughts will be with Don Lancaster and the Bucs faithful on 13 October this year and every year in the future.
At the conclusion of the game Don showed us around all the nooks and crannies of the great ballpark. We walked together back across the Allegheny and bode farewell, promising to keep in touch in the future. Don was a real gentleman and the heart and soul of the fabric that keeps this great game going. For his sake I hoped his beloved Bucs could get up for the remainder of the season. I wasn’t holding my breath though.