Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What is it About Baseball?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I know I’ve spent more than enough of your time on sports-related topics of late.  While I try to tie the issues involved to a PR topic, sometimes, I’m more successful than others.

Don’t count today’s blog post among those successful attempts.

The fact is I’ve been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since I can remember.  In terms of sports, which for a young boy in the 1960s represented dreams, heroes, childhood, friends and family, the ball club was my first love.

Some of our most vivid childhood memories adhere to us the rest of our lives.  Some of mine involve family get-togethers with my dad, uncles and grandmother on her front porch on steamy summer nights with the ever-present radio playing in the background, the voice of Bob Prince providing a backdrop to my childhood. 

I spent the days leading up to those nights imitating Pirates’ second-baseman Bill Mazeroski on the sandlot with my cousins and my friends.  I even filled my jaw with Bazooka Joe bubble gum to imitate the wad of chew the Maz always seemed to have in his cheek when he came up to the plate at Forbes Field.

That’s where we used to go by “street car” to see games.  When we actually had tickets, we’d watch from right field, nearest to Roberto Clemente, who had no trouble ignoring our calls for his attention the entire game.  They didn’t throw souvenir balls to the fans in between innings in those days.

Other times, if we did fairly well in school, they’d give us “Knothole Club” tickets which meant we’d be admitted to the bleacher section right behind the opposing team’s bull pen along the left foul line.  While you were close to the action, you had to sit on old wooden bleachers, surrounded by cyclone fence.  That meant for us boys, we couldn’t sneak into the field box seats in the later innings.  You were sort of in the ball park, but not really.

On occasion, we didn’t have tickets, so we’d stand outside the outfield wall between the ballpark and Carnegie Museum. We’d wait for a homer and then in a scramble we’d chase the bouncing raw hide through the parking lot, in between cars.  I remember we usually had a lookout in a tree who could see the game and would tell us when one was coming our way.

A few years later, I worked for KDKA, the station that broadcasted the games, and many times I had the opportunity to do my job from the confines of Three Rivers Stadium or in conjunction with Pirates’ players and representatives.  I used to run the station’s “Rainbow Machine,” a mobile broadcast studio we took to festivals and community events.  The original Pirate Parrot, Kevin Koch, came to rely on me and my Winnebago as a changing room and a place to hang out.

I remember producing the live feed from home plate the day Willie Stargell retired.

The Pirates and I intersected once again when I worked for Ketchum Public Relations.  I handled various PR matters for the team’s management for ten years.  During that time, it seemed more of the action was happening off the field than on it.  One thing that I was gratified to be a part of was the PR effort surrounding the campaign to build a new ballpark.  PNC Park has met its promise and more, as far as I’m concerned.

All of that brings me to today.  The Pirates are in the fifth game of their series against the tough St. Louis Cardinals.  Win it, and they move on to the National League Championship Series and a chance to play in the World Series.  Lose, and they will go home with the first winning record and playoff appearance since 1992.

Either way, the fans are already grateful for what the Pirates did for the city on the field this season. 

But that’s not to say those of us who’ve supported the Pirates this season didn’t have their doubts before this.  And it’s not to say we’re giving up now.  Neither is true.

Given the recent history, I had my doubts going into this season but did what I’ve always been compelled to do, watch the games, listen to the games, read the news stories about baseball.  The Pirates did what I’ve always hoped they would do and knew they could do.

They brought in a good mix of ballplayers.  They have a great farm system, a good manager and good coaching.  Then they let the team alone.  And it won, 97 times and counting so far this season. October baseball has its own feel, and it’s a good one.

They have what they need to keep it going into next year.  But of course there is the small matter of tonight’s game.  They can win it. They should win it, and I expect them to win it.  Like so many others, I’m not a fan who is just happy they’ve gotten this far, because I know they can go as far as the World Series. 

Still, if that doesn’t happen, it would be foolish to label this season as any less than a success not only for the team, but in delivering to us fans whatever it is that drives us to care - in some small way - what a group of grown men do on a baseball diamond over 162 times per summer.

Go Bucs!

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