|It was the Summer of '73. Just a few short months had passed since the Great Roberto Clemente had died on that plane. The city was still reeling from
the catastrophic shock of it all. I could only imagine what the players that had played with him were still feeling. His best friends on the team, Manny
Sanguillen & Willie Stargell, still had to put their uniforms on every day and play a boy's game when their minds were telling them that life looms larger than
simple games. Staring at his locker, every day, a life that loomed larger...
I never got over the shock, to this day. But in the Summer of '73, I tried to get back on that horse. To carry on like everyone else had. You expect to see
changes but life just keeps on happening. It all seems so far away now, but it is really just out of our grasp. I hadn't gone to a Pirate game since it happened.
Today I was going!
Mid-July the Pirates were hosting the San Diego Padres for a twi-night doubleheader. I was eleven years old and had saved enough dimes delivering the
Post-Gazette that I could treat me and my best buddy, Jimmy Malone to a ball game. Jimmy was a little older and savvier then I was in some ways but he didn't
have the independence that I was afforded. He was an only child being raised by his Grandparents. I was the middle child of six. Sometimes I got lost in the
shuffle, sometimes I just shuffled. So it was big deal at the Malone's house that we two little boys were going to go to a Pirate game by ourselves! "How are yinz
getting there?!" His Grandmom would ask. "We're taking the Streetcar, "Do yinz even know where Three Rivers Stadium is?!" "It's by the water." "How are
yinz getting home?!" "I told you! We're taking the Streetcar!" "I swear if you two get into any trouble, Pap will have your hides!" Me? I didn't tell anyone. I
just sort of...um...shuffled.
|We walked up to the top of the hill, took the 42/38 Streetcar from Dormont into town. We had
no real idea where we were going or how to get to the stadium, we would figure that out later. As
soon as we got to the big buildings, we got off. We were standing under Kaufmann's Clock.
"Hey Mister, you know how to get to the stadium?" This became a familiar refrain until we
made the 30 minute walk across the 6th Street Bridge to the Stadium. After negotiating the
hustle and bustle of actually getting into the stadium we made our way to the nose bleed seats.
The one good thing though was that we were in the first row of the Upper Deck. We could see
everything! Even if everything was a light year away.
Our initial excitement waned as we realized that between us we had enough money for a hot dog
each and we would have to split a Coke. It waned a little more when the first game devolved into
a pitcher's duel. Nellie Briles pitched a gem holding the great Nate Colbert, Cito Gaston and
company to one run. The Pirates won the game 3-1. Out of boredom we started ripping our
scorecards up and making confetti. Pretty soon we were looking for other discarded scorecards.
Soon after that we started collecting empty popcorn buckets and filling them with the confetti.
After a few more innings and then the break between games we were amassing a colossal
collection of discarded paper, any paper. Newspapers, empty Good n' Plenty boxes, hot dog
wrappers, whatever could be ripped and put into our stacking popcorn buckets.
The next game was a barn burner! The Pirates jumped to a 4-0 lead when the Padres broke out of
their slump and started clawing back. Then behind the big bats of the Pirates big men they put a
six spot on them in one inning. Stargell homered and Bob Robertson hit a blast that just fell
short of our reaching hands. The Cobra had three hits, Sanguillen and Al "Scoop" Oliver had a
couple each. The whole time we are filling our buckets. We now have about fifteen buckets
stuffed full of garbage...¦I mean, confetti! The Pirates had swept the double header, winning the
second game 13-7.
|It was time to celebrate! We took our buckets of confetti and littered the air with a seemingly endless supply of torn paper all over the denizens of the lower
deck. It was stupendous! Enough so that we heard that Bob Prince interrupted the post-game show to marvel at the sight. "Look at all that confetti folks! It
looks like Christmas in July!"
We wandered around the stadium to the lower deck, to the dugout roof and every vantage point that would allow us to score an autograph. It was all to no avail
as all the players fled to the Locker Room. We did manage to score a ball off a Bat Boy after convincing him that one of us was dying. "We gotta get at least
one autograph!" Jimmy stated. So, just as the ushers were about to throw us out, we made our way to the Pirate parking lot. We and about fifteen other
die-hards stood at the gate begging the Cadillacs and Mercedes that filed by for autographs. Finally a VW Beetle stopped, rolled down his window, and reached
out to grab our ball. He scribbled something on it and tossed it back. After ten minutes of deciphering we realized that Vic Davalillo had signed our ball!
|It was then that we realized it was very late. We headed back, in the dead of the night, to
the Streetcar stop. "Boy, there ain't nobody around." I said. So after a few detours we
finally made it to the Streetcar stop. We waited...and waited. I hadn't seen a Streetcar the
whole time since we left the Stadium. We saw this old bum sitting with his bag of booze.
"Hey Mister, you know where we can catch a Streetcar?" "Streetcar? Streetcars stop
coming at 11:00." "Do you know what time it is?" "I'd say it's about 12:30." WHAT?! Just
then Jimmy's Grandmom's admonition rang in my ears, "Pap will have your hides!" After
some bickering and cajoling, I got Jimmy to call his house. His Pap answered. "You're
where?!" "We're stuck downtown and there are no more Streetcars" "I gotta work in the
morning!" His Pap said in an unnerving tone. "Okay, meet me under Kaufmann's Clock!"
So we made our way to Kaufmann's Clock. After about forty-five minutes, Pap pulled up in
his big, gold Mercury Marquis. After some initial grumbling, he lightened up a bit. We
showed him our Vic Davalillo ball and told him about the game and the homeruns. He then
started telling us stories of Pie Traynor and Ralph Kiner and the legends of his era. It was a
ride home that I'll never forget. But boy was I glad that I didn't have to go home to his