Love of the Game: the Affair Begins – a Memoir

My love affair with baseball became activated on October 13, 1960 with Bill Mazeroski improbably hitting a walk-off home in the ninth to lift the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 10-9 victory over the ever-dominant New York Yankees, giving the Pirates their first World series triumph since 1925. I was an eleven year-old kid, and still remember watching the thrilling contest on our black-and-white TV.

I recall trotting excitedly to the business district of our Pittsburgh neighborhood amidst blasting horns and firecrackers, waving enthusiastically to strangers in passing cars. It was surely the most exciting event of my childhood.

I began attending games with friends at storied Forbes Field during the 1961 season. We’d pay fifty cents for left field bleacher seats, where we’d bake in the scorching afternoon sun, our youthful backs aching on those rigid benches. Soon we graduated to the $1.50 seats; with luck we sometimes found our way to reserved or even box seats before the games ended.

Following Pirates baseball during the 1960’s was one of the few highlights of my gloomy teenage years. The Pirates never repeated the success of their 1960 season during this period, but I loved watching number 21, the great right fielder Roberto Clemente and fine pitchers like Vern Law, Bob Friend and Elroy Face. In 1962 my friend Barbara and I discovered that Pirates reliever Fred Green and his family had moved to our street. We tried repeatedly to orchestrate an encounter, but only managed to meet his wife and infant son before Green was relegated to the minors.

By age sixteen, my friends Barbara, Betty and I discovered that the Oakland Howard Johnson restaurant nearby Forbes Field was an after-the-game hangout for Pirates players and broadcasters. We drove there as often as our parents would lend us their cars, for ice cream and eavesdropping. We so yearned to introduce ourselves as Pirates fans, but sadly were never able to manage the nerve.

One of the last games I attended at Forbes Field before that quintessential park was razed in favor of lackluster Three Rivers Stadium was on the night of my prom. Dateless, a friend and I decided that an evening of baseball would be a pleasant diversion. That 1967 Pittsburgh summer before my ejection into the real world of college and adulthood is now a far-off memory.