In the summer of 1976, while the rest of the country was celebrating our Bi-Centennial, I was falling in love with the game of baseball. More importantly, I was exposed to the fact that regardless of time and distance, family bonds never break. I learned that two loves – one of family and one for baseball – would be intertwined into my life forever going forward.
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., among the steel mills, rolling green hills, passionate fan bases for its pro teams and, most importantly, my family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all dotted the landscape of my young life. When at a young age I was plucked from this life, and moved out west, it deeply affected me. I missed everything about the town I was born in, but mostly I missed my family.
So when my parents informed my sister and me in June of 1976 we would be spending the rest of our summer back home in Pittsburgh, we were beyond thrilled. I had just finished up my first year of playing Little League baseball at the age of 7 and although I liked the game I had yet to fall in love with it. That would come later in the summer because of an unbreakable bond between a grandfather and his grandson.
They say baseball is a game to be passed down from generation to generation. It is the game where fathers carry children on their shoulders through stadium tunnels until fields of emerald green appear. That first look at a big league diamond stays with all of us throughout the years. That is precisely what I remember about the first time I laid my eyes on Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.
My grandfather was 56 years old in 1976 and had worked in a steel mill for over 30 years like most of his generation. He came home early that July day from his shift at the mill to inform me he had Pittsburgh Pirate tickets for us that night. I don’t remember much about the game, but what I remember most was the ride to the stadium in his Pontiac and the smell of the leather seats while he talked about baseball. He shared stories about Bill Mazeroski’s home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series and how he had tickets but couldn’t go because he had to work a double shift at the mill. After all, he had a commitment to fulfill. He told me about the “Great One” Roberto Clemente and how he was the best right fielder he had ever seen. Clemente was the MVP of the 1971 World Series, but he would say the Pirates’ great pitcher Steve Blass deserved much of the credit for the Bucs’ title.
Life has many moments that pass you by without you realizing how special they are. I am proud to say as I rode home that evening with my grandfather on that hot summer night, it didn’t go unnoticed for me. For although I was a mere 7 years old, I knew the moment, the memory and the special bond that had just been formed would last. And 44 years later, it still does.