My Neighbor the Southpaw

PITTSBURGH – 1987: Pitcher John Smiley #57 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago- I saw this guy across the street struggling with the heavy snow in his driveway. I was using my snow blower at the time and went over to help him. He appreciated it and we got to talking. He looked kind of familiar and he introduced himself as John. Turns out he is John Smiley, formerly a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I remember him pitching and remember his great career of 12 years with the Bucs, the Minnesota Twins, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians. With an ERA of 3.80 and a 126-103 win loss record, John has a lot to be proud of in his former career.

PITTSBURGH – 1989: Pitcher John Smiley of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1989 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Fast forward and I see him a lot recently hitting whiffle golf balls in his yard as he has taken up the game of golf again after his arm is finally healed after all these years of curve ball abuse. Of course I engage him about baseball. I was always a fan of baseball as my dad used to take me to Forbes Field as a kid and I saw all the greats from the 1960s play. Sometimes professional athletes or former athletes hesitate to engage in conversation about their sport but John is an extremely knowledgeable and engaging guy who loves to talk baseball. Right up my alley. We got to talking about his fun times in the Fantasy Camps in Florida in which he participates. For those of you who do not know, fantasy camps are for old guys trying to relive their youth on the baseball diamond with their old heroes. They pay a lot of money to play and the former professional players like John love to participate and tell all the old war stories in the evenings around the dinner table. John loves to tell me how funny former pitcher Steve Blass is and also about Bill Mazeroski’s amazing stories about the 1960 World Champion Bucs. I was amazed that Maz still participates at his age but these guys love baseball.

The University Club Father Son Baseball back in the day with my dad.

John likes to tell me stories about the nuances of the game like when he was pitching and the opposing team would pick up on his cadence and signal to the batter what pitch was coming. They stole the signals. One game in Montreal, John and his catcher at the time decided not to use any signals to throw the opposition off. They won easily and it was a moral victory for John and his catcher. I asked him what he thinks of the new electronic strike zone and John enthusiastically applauds it saying that any technological advance in the game that takes bad calls and chance away is a good thing. I was always a fan of baseball and loved my time playing in minor league, little league and pony league as a fat little catcher before moving on to other sports. But always liked baseball and to have a neighbor who loves to talk baseball and knows what he is talking about is a plus.

John also talks about how his father worked with him and got him to be dedicated to the game at an early age. Like a lot of kids who grow up to be professional athletes, there was not much time for fun outside of baseball. You had to train, play and practice at a very high level to make it. He said that he missed a lot of things as a kid growing up but would have never made the major leagues if it had not been for his dad and the coaches he had. He said that making it involved a lot of playing in the south in the heat. That separated the men from the boys, in John’s opinion, and in order to make it in the majors, you had to be dedicated and able to perform in all weather especially the heat.

A lot of professional athletes, again, don’t like to engage in conversation with fans. But John is quite the opposite. He sees that I am enthusiastic and interested in what he has to say about the game of baseball. I love his stories. Jan thinks I may be bothering him but I always insert myself in conversation with John while he is practicing with the whiffle balls. He is always quite energetic and never minds my endless questions. But that is who he is. A successful retired professional who loves the game and now has a nosy neighbor with whom to trade stories. As you would suspect from maybe knowing me, I tell him stories too. But nothing can compare to a career on the mound for a professional baseball team.

I am a talker. I struggle with listening sometimes but I always make a point of listening to John. I force myself to shut up and listen. A skill which needs constant work. But my talkative nature has led to some great conversations and ultimate friendships with some really interesting people. If I hadn’t initiated conversations with John, I would never know the great stories he has in his head. You have to listen, but you also need to initiate conversations sometimes. You never know how you will be rewarded. Thanks for reading.

Anyone Can Be a Father. It takes Dedication to be a Dad.

Curt Wooten on left. AKA “Pittsburgh Dad.”

Curt Wooten is a funny guy. As “Pittsburgh Dad”, he has created a comedy routine that is really popular here in Pittsburgh. But for those of you out of town, you will still appreciate his antics on his weekly You Tube videos. Remembering this photo from a few years back and also the poignant statement above about being a dad, many memories are filling my head on Father’s Day.

I will never forget the day we brought our son Jack home from the hospital. I said to my wife Janet, that life will never be the same. As a rookie dad, I was always trying to do the best for Jack and it all began with me trying to get him to do the things that I like to do. Skiing, riding a bike, hiking, all the outdoors stuff.

Mt. Rose, Nevada
Skiing with the boys.

I even made an effort to teach him all about American history with trips to Ft. Ligonier( of French and Indian War Fame), Fort Pitt, Williamsburg, VA and our famous trip to Gettysburg on the way to the shore. We looked like the Clampetts with fishing gear on the roof, bikes on the racks and tons of luggage I hired a guy to guide us and he drove our vehicle around the famous Gettysburg Civil War sites and after about three hours, he lost Janet and Jack – but I was enthralled. Again- it was all about me and what I liked and what I thought was important.

Jack at Williamsburg

After many days of hikes, bike rides in the woods with Jack on the “tag a long” and skiing, he came to me in the 6th grade and said he wanted to play basketball. I said” Basketball?” We are outdoors people! Janet looked at me and said,” it’s not all about you big guy.” So we began the basketball wars and I became fully engaged in Eden Christian Academy basketball, North Allegheny Basketball, and AAU Basketball

AAU Nationals in Florida with the DeJuan Blair All Stars.

Jack and I would attend Pete Strobl’s Scoring Factory at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and I was fully on board with his training with Pete. http://www.thescoringfactory.com Pete- who currently coaches a Pro team in Europe, taught Jack a lot about basketball but more importantly he taught him about commitment, hard work and effort that pays off in life.

The most fun times were with Darelle Porter ( former All American from Pitt) who coached Jack when he played for the Dejuan Blair All Stars in AAU Basketball. Darelle and the other coaches would ask me if I played and if I coached Jack. I politely responded that I was an outdoors guy, never visited gyms, and couldn’t even dribble. They took me under their wing and thus the fun times with DB.

Time moved on and Jack lost interest in basketball and became a gamer. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around video games which are extremely popular but conflicted with my image of Jack as an outdoors guy or a seasoned hoopster. College came on the horizon and Jack finished up with an accounting degree and magna cum laude from La Roche University. He now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and works with a company that does audits of credit unions. I can’t even balance my checkbook.

Marisa and Jack

The interesting thing now is that Jack’s girlfriend is getting him to do all the things that I liked to do outdoors. Hiking, walks along Lake Michigan, kayaking, and he is even playing hoops again at his local health club. He still has a deadly three point shot and has always been a fan of the NBA.

These days, as empty nesters, Janet and I look back and think about all the good times we had raising Jack here in Pittsburgh. We miss having him here but realize that he has his own life now and he is different in many ways than we are. As a type “A” guy, I always wanted to direct Jack’s life but realized that Janet’s adage that ” its not all about you big guy” is a real fact of life. I think often of how I tried so hard to be a good dad and not just a father like the saying above says. We all have the calling as dads to teach our children principles, raise them in the faith, and in general get them started on a good path in life. But the lesson for me is that now Jack has his own life and I must let him live it. In many ways, Jack teaches me now. But I am still old school in a lot of areas. Still write checks, put stamps on envelopes, mail things at the post office, and I think things like Venmo are cartoon characters. Jack just shakes his head as he tries to get me into the 21st century.

We don’t see Jack as often as we would like. He makes his excursions to Pittsburgh and we have a whirlwind time catching up with him and just letting him tell us how life is for him without offering much advice( or at least we try). We make the treks to Grand Rapids to spend time with Jack and Marisa and go to the lake and to other mid west attractions like the Tulip Festival in Holland on a recent trip.

But for the most part, on Father’s Day, I think about the privilege that I have being a dad. The opportunities that we gave Jack pale in comparison to the blessing that we have had with Jack as our son. Father’s Day is about being a dad. And for the record, I did ask Jack, now that he is again doing some outdoor ventures, if he would like to ski again? He was a decent skier. But he said, ” Truthfully dad- I never liked the cold.” Go figure- Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thanks for reading and happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

The Tour de Death

Make Chetlin Great Again- seen here on the right.

So in the continuing effort to MCGA( Make Chetlin Great Again) a couple of us got together the other evening and took Jeff for another mountain bike ride. He is making amazing progress after a stroke a year ago and soon will be back to full strength. So, after a rain storm, it was decided that the trails in Frick would be a little sloppy. So Jesse Seager, the restauranteur extraordinaire( go to Point Brugge in Pittsburgh to find out), Darryl Huber( uber athlete in from Colorado for a visit) and yours truly took to the roads of ………..a cemetery. We laughed and called it the Tour de Death but Jesse told us when the trails in Frick Park get too sloppy in the winter, he can get a good ten miles in on the mountain bike all along the roads that go through the cemetery.

The Benedum Crypt

The amazing thing is all of the famous people interred in this famous cemetery. Business leaders like Michael Benedum, Henry Clay Frick, Henry J Heinz, Senator John Heinz, Henry Hillman and Willard Rockwell. Entertainers like Erroll Garner and Walt Harper are also interred here along with Jock Sutherland – former Pitt football coach and Pie Traynor- hall of famer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the truly neat thing about cycling through the cemetery is the beauty of the place and the incredible mausoleums and crypts of some very famous families in the Pittsburgh area. It occurred to me that people really went into a thought process about their memorial places and what they wanted to leave behind as a memory and tribute to their lives here in the ‘burg. Jesse and Jeff, as locals, gave us a great tour and it was in no time at all that Jeff probably had the most mileage and time on the bike to date. Every ride gets better and better for this guy. It won’t be long until he is 100 percent full strength. Who ever thought that part of his rehabilitation would be laps through a famous cemetery?

No complaints from the customers here.
People are dying to get in.
Military Sections Too

As we peddled along, Jeff commented that among all the groups he is involved with- skiers, moto- cross riders, and snowmobilers, he seems to think that the mountain bike community is the best. More laughs, more genuine people, and one of the reasons he won’t move permanently to his other home in Bend, Oregon. He likes the mountain bike community in Pittsburgh, even if we do ride through cemeteries from time to time.

The cemetery makes you think a little as you go along as to what is really important in life. Jeff commented that as we get older, it is not about how fast we go on the trails, how many miles we did, or even where we rode. It is more about getting together and enjoying the great outdoors. It’s being with friends, talking and laughing, reminiscing, and in general enjoying each others company. It rained on us a little bit but as mountain bikers, we really don’t care. We enjoyed the ride, the company and the views.

So the next time you think that it is too muddy to ride, maybe think about your local boneyard. It is quiet, peaceful, and offers some dry riding in the worst of weather conditions – and no cars which is a bonus. Take a tip from Jesse and Jeff, go hit it and when the trails dry, you can tell some stories out there about how you saw Pie Traynor’s final resting place. Thanks for reading.

” If you really want something- give it.”

I was in the parking lot of my church with Johnny Salvini ( a great guy and friend) who quoted a wonderful Christmas saying . ” If you really want something- give it.” He heard that line while he was volunteering, ringing the Salvation Army bell at one of the local malls. I asked him how his experience was and he said it was really an excellent way to spend some time during the Christmas season. As with most people who volunteer, he stated that he got more out of it than the time that he gave. He greeted people with “Merry Christmas” and they responded with smiles and donations to the kettle. Some people said ” I don’t celebrate but thank you.” You see- Merry Christmas is not offensive but a wonderful way of greeting people this time of year and celebrating the Christmas season. Christmas is a time of giving and if you focus on that, you will really get what you want at this time of year.

The Pittsburgh Creche- US Steel Building

Switching gears just a bit, I am in our local county park a lot and I often think of the many nights I would run around the lake and finish at a grove right near the parking lot. That grove had beautiful lodgepole pines surrounding it and was a perfect setting for a Christmas creche that was set up for years inside the grove. I can remember running in the winter on cold, clear, nights, looking up at the stars and thinking about the birth of Christ. When we speak of giving- that birth, life ,and death on the cross with the Resurrection, was the greatest gift of all and we celebrate at this time of year. I thought about that a lot as I ran around that lake and at the end of the run, I always walked up to the pine surrounded grove and spent some time looking at that creche. Loved it when it snowed too- just added more to that ambiance. I thought about the significance of the Christmas season and also what was going to happen with my life. Would I ever have a child? What would lie ahead for me and my young wife Janet? What could I do to give more at this time of year and how those acts of kindness would mean more to me than the ones receiving the gesture? It was comforting to run and then stop to see that creche at the Christmas season. It was a symbol of the greatest gift of all and how we are called to walk in that light.

The vacant grove

Things have changed in the last several years and there is no more creche in that grove. It is kind of cold and lonely out there at night and when I rode up to the grove the other night on my mountain bike, I was kind of saddened at the scene. The creche was always a reminder to remember the true meaning of Christmas and in many ways, an inspiration to be true to Johnny Salvini’s quote- ” if you really want something- you have to give it” That inspiration is ringing that bell for the Salvation Army, volunteering and giving your time to a cause that is bigger than yourself, visiting a sick friend and giving them hope and inspiration, and in general being kind and loving rather than angry and bitter with the current state of the world today. People need your help. Please – give it. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.

CycloXpgh ’21

The B Group on Mt. Washington

It has been a couple of years since I did the last Cyclo X Ride to and through all the city parks in Pittsburgh. This ride is the brain child of a really fit cyclist – Aaron Shaffer. An educator by trade, Aaron thought through this event several years ago and plotted a route that would take cyclists for a great tour of the city enabling people to use their mountain bikes as transportation. Aaron- seen here on the left below, always seems to draw a crowd. The “A” group, which Aaron leads, usually rides between 75-80 miles with 7,000 feet of elevation on the ride. Aaron was the lone survivor this year in the “A” group . It was hot and those guys ride fast and hard.

Aaron and the Shark- plotting the route.

There is a less formidable version of this ride which the “B” group enjoys but nonetheless, it usually is around 60 miles and roughly 3000 feet in elevation. This was the group that I rode with this year as I am the senior statesman on the whole ride. Mike Connors led this ride as he is the map guy and knows the route along with the Shark- Mark Sauers. Wondering whether I was a little ” long in the tooth” for this ride anymore and with the predicted 88 degree humid weather typical to Pittsburgh this time of year, and the projected mileage and elevation, I made my way to the Grist House Brewery for the start a little timid but ready to ride an event that I finished twice before . The cool thing about Cyclo X is that it has a lot of road riding through the city and then you pop into the city parks which are loaded with trails for mountain biking and give you a sense of being out in the wilderness even though civilization is just beyond the trees.

Phipps Conservatory on a glorious day.

Riding in reverse this year, we made our way to the Point ( where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers converge) and over to to the Southside of the city making our way through Panther Hollow and up into Oakland to ride Highland, Schenley and Frick Parks. Winding our way up and out of Panther Hollow we had a tough trail to navigate with trees down and tight rooted single track. But the reward was a nice pedal through the Carnegie Mellon campus, the Pitt campus and eventually back down to ride the railroad tracks along the river.

Carnegie Mellon campus with Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning in the background
Pounding the tracks with the B Group
The Emerald Trails in Mt. Washington.

The tough part of the ride for me comes when we ride to Mt. Washington which is a grueling climb in the heat. Most of our group went on a nasty, tight switchback, trail which leads to the top at Grandview Ave. Riding that before, I elected to take 18th street all he way up – getting baked all the way and running low on my drink bottle. I took a couple of the folks who had gravel bikes with me because they were skeptical of their ability to navigate the rooty, tight switchback trail climb, littered with broken glass and rebar. Probably a wise move and we all were led up the hill by the affable and very capable rider Samra Savioz. I tell my western friends that we don’t have the sustained long climbs like they do but ours are really steep and tight.

The lunch stop is usually Red Beards Tavern on Mt. Washington. Great food and a friendly outdoor tavern atmosphere. We take the joint over and it is usually where we regroup with the ” A” Group. Loading up on liquids, we kept the waitstaff running with pitchers of water. But they were so friendly that they didn’t mind and seemed to enjoy the rowdy group of riders who frequent their establishment once a year at Cyclo X.

The Red Beard Lunch Stop

Coach Lou with an interesting coiffure in the heat at lunch

Chief Guyasuta and George Washington conferring on Mt. Washington as to what this vehicle is with the fat tires?

Making our way through more Emerald Park trails on the Mount, the group made our way down McArdle Roadway into Station Square and over the Fort Pitt Bridge back to the Northside by Heinz Field where people were starting to revel already for the upcoming evening Steeler game. The party people tailgating on their boats paid us no mind as we made our way to the old Western Penitentiary for the climb to the final park- Riverview. It was at this point where I made the prudent decision as the old guy to head right and take the North Shore trail back to the origin of the ride – The Gristhouse Brewery in Millvale. There I changed clothes and enjoyed one of their delicious, fruity, hazy IPAs and relaxed under an umbrella and a picnic table with those of us who also chose to take the ride back. Samra, Everyday Dave, Shark, Laurie, Fred, Ron, and Coach Lou and some others, decided to tough it out and make the final climb to Riverview and Fineview and then down to Millvale. Lots of mileage either way and lots of vertical feet on the 2021 reversed version of Cyclo X.

8:00 AM at the Grist House -ready to ride.

I tell people all the time that this is really a mountain bike ride in the city. Although there is a lot of road, there is a good amount of trails in the parks and the fat tires rule . It is a bit sketchy for gravel bikes but for those with experience and skill like our fearless leader, Aaron, gravel bikes can be used with caution and dexterity.

So, Cyclo X PGH ’21 is in the books and kudos to those who finished the whole ride. The ” A” group are pretty amazing and our ” B ” group was pretty amazing as well. Good riders who made the commitment to spend the day in one of the most beautiful cities in the world on a truly gorgeous day. Thanks Aaron and thanks for reading.

These excellent photos courtesy of Ron Chamberlain and Samra Savioz. Great riders and pretty good photographers too.

” We had ’em allllllllll the way”

You know – there is a joke about Pittsburgh, my home town, that goes like this – ” How many Pittsburghers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? ” ” Three- one to screw in the bulb and two to remember how great the old bulb was.” Kind of funny but if you know Pittsburghers, you know it is true. Especially in sports. We love our teams and can remember the good old days of the Steelers( the Immaculate Reception by Franco) and the glory days of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My pal J.B. Loughney posted a video the other day on the 60th anniversary of the 1960 World Championship Pittsburgh Pirate’s victory over the New York Yankees. The famous home run by Bill Mazeroski is still revered around here to this day. When I saw that video, it brought tears to my eyes seeing all those great players who I so admired in my younger years attending the games with my dad at Forbes Field. And to hear that voice again of Bob Prince, pictured above, the voice of the Pirates on KDKA Radio, really choked me up.. Bob’s famous line after we won a game was……” and we had am allllllllllllthe way”. I can still hear that in my mind and to hear it on this video was so gratifying. I remember how great the old bulb was. J.B remembers too. His grandfather was Joe Barr- the Mayor of Pittsburgh back in the heyday of the Pirates.

From the University Club News

I can remember seeing all those players in the video many times during my youth and marveling at the talent of a guy like Dick Groat, who played basketball for Duke and then spent his career with the Pirates playing professional baseball. I was a catcher in minor league, little league, and pony league. The only position I ever played and Smokey Burgess, the catcher for the Bucs, was a hero to me.

One of the cool things that my dad did for me was to take me to the University Club for the Father and Son Baseball Nights. We would meet many of the Pirates and listen to Bob Prince, who usually was the speaker. Then eat dinner and go to the game. The Pirates like Bill Virdon, Donn Clendenon, Dick Groat, Harvey Haddix, Vernon Law, and many others would take the time to come to the event before the game to meet all the fathers and sons and sign autographs. For free!! No paying a fee for an autograph in those days and the players were happy to do it. We were all enthralled at the stories that Bob ” the Gunner” Prince would tell us about the ins and outs of Pirate baseball.

Following dinner, we all would line up in the driveway of the U Club and begin a march to Forbes Field behind one of the great jazz trumpeters of our time- Benny Benack. He would play with his quartet and we would march in a row behind him singing songs like ” Oh the Bucs are going all the way, all the way, all the way this year” Kind of cornball but whatever. I can still see it in my mind 50 some years later. Time flies but boy do I remember that old bulb.

Yes- those were the good old days of my youth and those players were true heroes to me. In those days, they played for the love of the game. There was no greed, holdouts for better contracts, or any of the other issues that plague professional sports today. Those guys loved baseball and were honored to play for the Pirates and sign autographs for a fat little catcher like me from the North Hills of Pittsburgh. That video really got to me folks and I watched it over and over as those days with my dad came alive for me again. So yes, I am the typical Pittsburgher remembering, and once again- thinking how great the old bulb was. Thanks for reading.

How would you like to be buried with my people?

I came across an old deed to our family burial plots the other day. I have not seen this document since my folks passed away back in the early 2000s. The deed is for Calvary Cemetery in Hazelwood and it says things like, ” no carriages allowed in the cemetery after dark.” Seeing that Calvary was founded in 1886, and my maternal great grandfather bought the original plots, it is a historic document that is still legal today. Turns out we have several plots still available in this historic cemetery . Reminds me of the old joke that says ” How does an Irishman propose marriage?” ” He says, How would you like to be buried with my people?” LOL!!

Famous individuals are buried in Calvary. People like former mayors of Pittsburgh, Dick Caligiuri, Bob O’Connor, and David L Lawrence. Billy Conn, the former light heavyweight champion of the world, is interred here. Harry Stuhldreher, one of the famous Four Horsemen of Notre Dame football, and Frank Gorshin- the Riddler from the Batman TV show, are buried in Calvary as well.

Apparently my grandfather and grandmother went on dates to Calvary to decorate the graves and it turned out that their respective families were buried right across the street from each other. What a romantic guy my grandfather was. ” Hey Mary- would you like to go to the cemetery?” They took picnic lunches and continued that tradition with me as a young lad. Ham sandwiches sitting on some guy’s headstone. My grandparents, between bites, explained who all was buried there. We planted geraniums on both sides of the street and made it equal. Couldn’t have the Carroll’s have more flowers than the Reynolds. The flats of flowers were provided by my dad seeing that my grandpap was a little tight. No bee like a freebie.

Fast forward and I was driving. My first destination was to O’Brien’s Funeral Home on the Northside of Pittsburgh. All of “my people” had their arrangements with O’Brien’s and if you went anywhere else, you were thought to be “high hat” and were scorned by the relatives and friends. I was so proud of myself for making it to O’Brien’s and not wrecking the car. Turns out that I made many trips there over the years because of the eventual passing of my elderly relatives. I was so happy to be able to drive to O’Brien’s and so was my mother who was usually my passenger. Ever since she rear ended a garbage truck, she was happy when I got my license.

My most recent memories of Calvary were when my folks died and I took their cremated remains to be buried in the Reynold’s plot. I can remember how strange it was to have my mother and father sitting beside me with a seat belt on the urn. I remarked that I thought that they have looked better and had a laugh to myself in a very odd trip to Hazelwood. Sometimes humor can make the solemn palatable.

Oftentimes today, I look at gravestones in cemeteries like the ones shown here in a local Lutheran Church. As a history buff, it is intriguing to me to see stones with born and died dates in the 1800’s and in some, as old as the 1700’s. I ride my mountain bike by a site in the mountains that memorializes a lightning strike that took the life of a young person. National Cemeteries like Arlington and Gettysburg memorialize great struggle and the lives that were lost in those wars

So, looking at that deed this week brought back many memories of my folks, my long gone relatives, and a final resting place for our family out in Hazelwood, Pa. I am not sure I want to be put to rest there because I have these grandiose ideas of being blown to the wind in the mountains. But my wife, who is 8 years younger, says, ” You will probably go before me and if so, you won’t have much say in the matter.” We both have a good chuckle about that one. When I remember my last time out in Calvary and observing all of my relative’s memorials, I know one thing. I won’t be having any picnics out there any time soon. Thanks for reading.

The Arctic Plunge

The picture you see above is Gus Brickner aka the Human Polar Bear. My dad was fascinated with the exploits of this long distance swimmer who distinguished himself by his winter swims in the Monongahela River in the winters around Pittsburgh. His famous New Years Day plunge in 1962 was witnessed here by yours truly and my dad. He said,” Patrick, lets go down and see Gus Brickner jump in the Mon.” As an 8 year old kid, I was thrilled that my dad wanted to take me and off we went to see the guy who eventually logged 38,500 miles swimming, two English Channel attempts, and swimming behind the ice breaker boats in the Mon during the most brutal winters near Charleroi, Pa.

My dad was an engineer and he always wanted to show me things that meant something to him as a technical person. I remember going to Geneva on the Lake when I was a kid and my dad taking me to Sandusky, Ohio to see the big ore freighters that traveled the Great Lakes bringing iron ore to the steel mills. He would explain the process of making steel and eventually built a continuous caster scale model for me to enter into the Buhl Planetarium Science Fair. Now, I knew nothing about continuous casting in the steel industry as a young kid and when asked about the project, I fumbled my way with the nuns trying to explain what my dad had told me. To my surprise, I was not a technical person, but my explanation along with my contrite personality with the nuns, got me a good grade and also an entry into the Science Fair. I( we- my dad) eventually ended up in the finals and once again, I had beads of sweat coming out of the arm pits trying to explain the virtues of the continuous caster. My dad was so proud of his- er a – my project.

Not long after the visit to the Mon to see Gus the Polar Bear, it seemed like spring came early and off we were to the ball games at Forbes Field. My dad, being a fan of baseball, explained the technical aspects of fielding a baseball to me and under no circumstances was I ever to do a “basket catch” like my idol Roberto Clemente. My dad dissed him as a “hot dog” but I was impressed that he could throw out guys at the plate all the way from right field. To me – the “Great One” was something but to my dad, if you did not have the glove over your head and trap the ball with the other hand so as not to drop it, you were not technically a good ball player. My dad- seen here in the middle with the great Honus Wagner back in the day in Bellevue.

It really did not matter to me that we went down in the middle of winter to see a guy jump in the icy river, or make the trek to see the giant ore boats, or go to the ball park, or launch Estes rockets across the street that my dad had built for me. It was the chance to spend time with my hero, my dad. He took the time for me and showed me things as a young kid that I remember to this day- a man in my 60s. I remember the kite flying when my dad would use three balls of string and stretch the kite out into the stratosphere- or so it seemed to me. The cleaning bag flying balloons powered by a little can of sterno glued to a cross bar of balsa wood – floating away into the clear night air. So many fun projects and excursions. The first time my sister and I went skiing, we were stuck in a raging snowstorm on the Pa turnpike – on my dad’s birthday, because he wanted to get us started on what he termed the sport of a lifetime. He and my mom did not ski but they made sure we did. The father and son swim competitions where I would see that big smiling face swim to the wall watching me take off in relay fashion.

Gus Brickner, the great Roberto were all heroes to me. But the main hero was the guy who took the time to take me to see them. For you young fathers out there, take a page out of R.J McCloskey’s book. Spend time with your son and daughter. You will never get that time back and they will remember it forever. I did. I saw Gus jump in the river when it was snowing in 1962. Thanks for reading.

Hot Time in the City

I have ridden my mountain bike in a lot of great places in this country. California, Moab,the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, but I have to tell you , last Saturday was one of the best days on the bike- ever! Aaron Shafer put together a ride to and through all the city parks in Pittsburgh,Pa. my home town. Don Cunningham encouraged me along with some others to attend. Aaron is the fit guy in the red jersey who had the bright idea and we all met at his instruction at the Grist House Brewery in Millvale, Pa at 8:00 A.M. After a cruise on the bike path along the Allegheny River accompanied by the early morning scull crews, we ascended Federal Street- one of the steeper climbs in the city to the entrance of Riverview Park. Now, the 25 or so riders had a variety of different bikes for the occasion. Guys showed up with road bikes but had no chance of riding a trail with them. Aaron, who is a skilled rider, had a cross bike along with some others. A good choice but personally, I was happy I had my mountain bike for many reasons including comfort with fat tires, dual suspension, and upright bar positioning. Lots of others had the same idea. Riding the technical trails of Riverview was a treat with the dry conditions.

Moving on to the North Shore Trail by way of Woods Run, we made our way across the river and rode around the beautiful fountain that is the showpiece of our Golden Triangle. The group pedaled along to the historic South Side with the intent of eventually making our way up Mt. Washington. We lost some folks along the way with that news and the group split with some of the hardier riders taking a twisty technical trail to the top of Mt. Oliver to Mt. Washington, while the rest pedaled the long climb up 18th Street. I have lived here most of my life but have never known there were beautiful parks on Mt. Washington with incredible views of the city. Emerald Park was one of them and we rode perfectly manicured trails and gravel paths with a stop for lunch at Red Beards Bar and Grill.

One of the cool things about Pittsburgh is the emergence of little outdoor cafes that are indigenous to the neighborhoods that surround the city. Red Beards is one of them and sitting outside at a table with a view of their outdoor “beach bar” was a relaxing experience. So much so, that I parted from my usual long ride protocol and had a cold draft with a sandwich to fuel the balance of the ride. After some further attrition due to family obligations, some of the guys departed after our visit to the mount. After a rapid descent down McArdle Roadway to the Southside, we made an additional stop at the OTB Cafe where I remarked to the young lady tending bar that a lot of us were patrons of the OTB in North Park. She said, ” Oh I see, you guys made a visit to the gritty, grimy OTB?” We laughed, I pounded a Coke with a lime, and we proceeded to climb into Panther Hollow near the University of Pittsburgh campus. Assembling at the iconic Phipps Conservatory, we made our way through the scenic trails of Schenley Park and Frick Park. Both of these parks are well ridden and maintained by city mountain bikers and offer some technical terrain that rivals any city park in the country.

After further attrition due to the fact that it was now about 6:00 PM, we were down to 8 riders to which Mark,” the Shark” Sauers, remarked, ” Hey – I made it to the elite 8.” We all laughed and although Aaron and Fred Fischer took an additional trail as the rest of us took a breather at the bottom of Frick, we all made our way to Highland Park for the final city park visit. Riding with the cool breeze and realizing that the fabulous day was coming to a close, we exited Highland Park and as Aaron and Fred took one more climb up Stanton Avenue which is one of the climbs on the famous “Dirty Dozen” ride of Danny Chew fame. The rest of us booked down Butler Street to cross the bridge back to the brewery.

Interestingly, the emergence of cafes, restaurants, and new places of business is evident as you make your way through Lawrenceville. Once a declining, post industrial neighborhood, the resilient community has emerged as one of the more trendy neighborhoods in the city and what better way to investigate all it has to offer than from the seat of a bicycle. Pittsburgh is no longer the dirty, dusty, steel town of old. Continually rated as one of the better places to live in the country for many reasons,our city parks tour could be an attraction to the outdoor set visiting or contemplating relocation.

At 7:00 PM with approximately 60 plus miles of road, gravel roads and trails, and 5700+ vertical feet of climbing behind us, the beers at the Grist House sure were tasty and the food trucks, which are a hallmark of the new style breweries popping up in town, had ample fare to satisfy the hunger of the Shafer riders.

Moral of the story, get on your bike and investigate your city. You will see things you never knew existed and if you come to Pittsburgh, get on a mountain bike and go for a ride. The city of three rivers will surprise you. Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Mark “the Shark” Sauers and Pat McCloskey.

“To have a friend is to be a friend”

My mother’s famous line was ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” No one could embody that statement more than Hot Harry Kirsch. All of us in the North Park Running and Cycling community lost a friend tonight when we heard the news that Hot Harry had ” run his last mile at 8:30 PM.” With his family around him, he passed quietly and peacefully.

Hot Harry was an icon in the running scene in Pittsburgh. As a marine, and a retired trolley/bus driver, Harry began running in earnest in his 50s and over the course of his life he ran over 50 marathons including his beloved Marine Corps Marathon. Organizing bus trips to Washington D.C for years, Harry supported the Marines by bringing hundreds of runners together to hear the Marine at the top of the hill shouting,” Pain is fleeting, pride is forever.” Harry ran countless Boston Marathons , one of which in 1987, I was fortunate enough to be his room mate. Harry was always supportive to first time marathoners with his cheery disposition and friendly ways. He encouraged veteran runners as well in advance of events and in the glow of the finish line.

For years, runners who parked at Stone Field in North Park finished their runs seeing the familiar open trunk on Harry’s car filled with bottles of drinks and cups that Harry would provide not only on race days but every day of running in the park. He had a way of gathering people and generating enthusiasm and even started the first running club in the park -Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. At events nationwide, runners would often see the singlet of the club at events and inquire about Hot Harry. The North Park runners were only too happy to oblige in telling the tales of the retired bus driver who attracted so many runners to his fold.

Harry loved the ladies and ran often with a group of accomplished women runners many of whom were national class. They loved Harry and made a point to run with him whenever they could.

Harry also attracted the characters. Doc Chuck, Merz, and a host of others whom he named. Big nose Bill, Sad Bill, Bushy Debbie, 10 Mile Bill, the Pretty Boys,and many, many more who all claimed Harry as their fearless leader. He would invite all the runners and their families to picnics at his farm in Evans City and we all would see Harry giving the kids tractor rides tirelessly into the evening. Harry loved the Park and enjoyed every moment meeting new people and welcoming them and encouraging them to join in his community. He drank a lot of coffee. Boy did he like coffee!!

Hot Harry was truly a friend to all of us in the North Park running community. He made the effort to be there for all of us and not only in the fun times of after work running and the weekend races, but there for us in sad times as well. Harry valued the friendships and made an effort to contact people who were hurting and people who were injured, sick, or just having a bad day. When you saw that smile and his familiar,” Heyyyyyyyyy” , you know that no matter what was going on in your life, Harry would make you smile and make you feel that things were better in your world.

Second Corinthians 5 says that we all will abandon our earthly bodies and take on the new bodies that we will have for eternity in heaven. I believe that Harry willingly left this world and his earthly body behind, with all of its mileage and marathons, and strapped on a new pair of celestial NIKE shoes and streaked toward the finish line at the pearly gates. There he was welcomed with the statement” well done my good and faithful servant.” Thanks for everything Harry. We will miss you.