This is a guest post by Robert Germaux. Robert and his wife live outside of Pittsburgh. After three decades as a high school English teacher, and now a good many years into retirement, he is beginning to have serious doubts about his lifelong dream of pitching for the Pirates. “Baseball and Me: A Love Story” is one of the essays from his first non-fiction book, Grammar Sex (And Other Stuff). In addition, Bob has three novels available in the e-book format. You can find The Backup Husband, Small Talk and Hard Court at his Amazon Author Page.
(I wrote this six years ago, and everything I said then still holds now, except for one thing. Although baseball still hasn’t instituted a hard salary cap, my favorite team finally managed to break that losing streak. Let’s go, Bucs!)
With apologies to Robert Frost, I have a lover’s quarrel with baseball. I’m sure the affair began the first time someone wrapped my little hands around that wonderful white spheroid. I probably wasn’t talking yet, but had I been capable of articulation, I think I would have said, “This feels right.” Not too many years later, I was playing organized baseball for the first time, pitching for Cub Scout Pack 34 in Homewood-Brushton. Eight years old and livin’ the dream. From then on, I followed the path trod by so many others: Little League, Pony League, my high school team, American Legion ball. You didn’t necessarily want me pinch-hitting in the last inning of a close game, but you could have done worse than to have had me on the mound in that situation. In the summer of 1967, I reached the zenith of my baseball career, signing a contract to play for the Lawrenceville Tigers. Alas, the very next day, a friend informed me that there were jobs available at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, jobs that paid much better than a semi-pro baseball gig. I had another year of college expenses, so the decision was easy. I never threw another pitch in a competitive game.
Throughout all those years, and the decades since, one of the constants in my life has been my steadfast support for the Pittsburgh Pirates. My dad used to take me to games when I was very young, and once I was old enough, I would also go with friends. I can remember sitting in the bleacher section of Forbes Field with my best friend, the two of us debating whether we should spend our remaining funds on two more hot dogs or on streetcar fare back home to Wilkinsburg after the game. More often than not, the dogs won the day, and if the Pirates won the game, the walk home didn’t seem quite so long.
When the Bucs were on the road, I’d tune in KDKA on the radio and listen to Bob “The Gunner” Prince describe the action. Prince was one of the great ones. His mastery of the language and his unique phrasing (an easy outfield fly was “a big ole can of corn”) made me feel as though I was right there in the booth, sitting next to him. This was especially true on those magical occasions like May 26, 1959, when Harvey Haddix, the Kitten, pitched twelve perfect innings, only to lose the game on an error in the thirteenth. It took the Gunner and me a while to recover from that one.
And then, of course, there was that glorious day in mid-October of 1960. I was in tenth grade, and just after second period began, I was called down to the principal’s office. I knew I wasn’t in trouble. When your mother’s the president of the PTA and is on a first-name basis with most of your teachers, you tend to mind your Ps and Qs. When I got to the office, I was told my mom had called to say that my dad had scored two tickets to the game, and I was being dismissed early. Flash forward to 3:37 that afternoon, and my father and I were jumping up and down in our upper right-field seats as we watched one of those white spheroids fly over Yogi Berra’s head and disappear beyond the 406-foot mark in left-center. Dad later told me he came close to throwing his hat into the air, but he’d just bought the thing the day before. Even as I write these lines, almost half-a-century later, I’m getting goose bumps.
The Pirates won the World Series that year, and again in 1970 and 1979. More importantly, they were contenders in many of the intervening years. Then came October 14, 1992. The Pirates’ season ended with a playoff loss to the Braves. We didn’t realize it at the time, but as Sid Bream raced home ahead of Barry Bonds’ throw, a new era in Bucco baseball was beginning. For Pirates’ fans, that day was the baseball equivalent of the Day the Music Died, except that for us, what died was hope. Oh, we had a couple of seasons when the Bucs flirted with a winning record, but it just never happened. Losing season followed losing season followed losing season. And something else happened. New terms began creeping into the sports section of my daily paper. Alongside shutouts and double plays and earned run averages, I was now reading about small markets and free agents and revenue streams. Revenue streams?
Last year, the Pirates set the record for most consecutive losing seasons by a professional sports team in North America, breaking a tie with their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. Must be a Pennsylvania thing. And now my Buccos are poised to endure an eighteenth straight losing season, and until Major League Baseball comes to its senses and installs a hard salary cap, something similar to the NFL model, I don’t see any change in the offing. So what am I to do? Stop going to games? My wife and I don’t go to anywhere near as many games as we used to, but we’re not going to deprive ourselves completely of the joy of sitting in Section 217 at PNC Park and watching the Pirates play in the best baseball venue in the land. And I don’t see myself not catching the Bucs on TV and radio, especially those late-night games from the West Coast, when I can close my eyes and drift off, not just to sleep, but back to the sixties, when fans showed up early for games just to watch the great Roberto Clemente take outfield practice, or to the seventies, when everyone always stayed to the last out, no matter how far behind the Pirates might be, because the Lumber Company never gave up.
I’m still mad at the people who run my favorite sport, but in the end, when you get right down to the relationship between baseball and this sixty-four-year old kid, I guess there’s still more of the love than the quarrel.