The Great One

I always loved this time of the year when I was a kid. My dad would sign me up for baseball at the Berkeley Hills Fire Hall and I would wait for the notice to see what team I was on and when we started practice. The field was right across the street from where I grew up. As it turned out, I played catcher in minor league, little league, and pony league, and loved every minute. I even loved it when Mike Malone crashed into me on a crucial play in pony league. I tagged him, and I went ass over tin cups into the backstop and held on the the ball for the out. That happened to me a lot. Guys would love to come steaming into home plate and try to take out the catcher. The trick was to tag them and hang on to the ball. I couldn’t get enough baseball. A funny sideline was a number of years ago,I was helping coach my son’s baseball team and as I was telling my mom about my experience, she said,” What do you know about baseball? You never played baseball?” Just goes to show you she liked swimming meets better than baseball games. I made the all star teams and she never saw me play once with the ” tools of ignorance” behind the plate. We all got a good laugh out of that one. But playing catcher was wonderful and I tried to emulate Smokey Burgess behind the Pirates plate. He was stocky like me and could throw out a runner stealing second with little effort.
But the real hero in Pittsburgh was Roberto Clemente who played right field for the Bucs. My dad would take me to the games at Forbes Field and a special time was the Father and Son Baseball Nights at the University Club. I had to wear a sport coat and tie but got to meet all the players at the dinner before the game. They were all there signing autographs and I was in awe when I met the great Roberto. He was genuinely a nice guy and seemed to like meeting all the young kids and asking us about our baseball. My dad was not really a fan because Roberto had this habit of making basket catches below his belt instead of the standard method of catching a fly ball over your head and cupping the ball with your other hand. My dad called Roberto a hot dog but I knew better. He was……the Great One!!!

Roberto was more than a great player. He was a generous and extremely philanthropic person, and as I learned in later years, he made numerous trips to aid his fellow citizens of Puerto Rico who were victims of disasters or just plain poverty, and tragically died in a plane crash while getting supplies and food to Nicaragua after an earth quake in 1972. All of Pittsburgh was devastated and something died in me that day too as a senior in high school. As a young kid, Roberto was a hero to me and his life ended way too soon. I always held him close in my heart. Hockey may call Gretzky the Great One, but in Pittsburgh, Roberto will always be…….The Great One. I can still see him running down a sharply hit ball in right field, spinning around and throwing out a runner sliding into home plate. Smokey would field the rocket ball from right field and tag the runner and the crowd went wild. I can see it in my mind to this day.
So as the spring flowers start to bloom, the grass gets green, the temps moderate and the sun shines in Pittsburgh( yes it does happen), I think about baseball. Our PNC Park is one of the nicest fields in the country with our Pittsburgh skyline as the backdrop. There is nothing like sitting at the park on a nice summer evening and watching the Bucs play. Our Andrew McCutchen was not happy this year when he was moved to right field. My immediate reaction was that he should be proud to play the same position as Roberto Clemente did for the Pirates. When I see him now in right field, my mind drifts back to #21 playing that same position. Just recently Cutch was moved again due to an unfortunate incident with Starling Marte, but that is another story. But whoever fills that right field position, will be standing in some pretty big shoes. Some advice to the young players out there, only Roberto could get away with the basket catch. Get that glove up over you head, watch the ball, catch it and cup it in the glove with your other hand. Play Ball!!! Thanks for reading.

The Earth Awakens

Still waiting for the trails to dry, but we are getting close in this neck of the woods. In the mean time, I am watching the world awaken from the seat of my road bike.IMG_0154 It is interesting when you go on solo rides through the country roads this time of year, that you can take the time to appreciate spring and how the word awakens to a new season. The sun splashed hillsides yield new floral growth similar to a newborn baby smiling when it is fed after a nap.IMG_0152 If you take it in, you can almost feel the frozen ground melting and draining and enjoying the benefit of longer days and warmer sunshine. The grass grows greener instantly, the air smells fragrant with the scent of blooming plants and blossoming trees. I have to say that for many years, I did not notice. I was always working hard to stay on the wheel of the guy in front of me in a pace line on a road bike. Like the saying goes,” if you aren’t the lead dog, the view is always the same.” I did not take in the signs and the scents of spring in my early days of road riding and road racing. Now I do and it is a very pleasant experience. IMG_0150
My fascination with spring growth was fostered, I suppose, by my dad. He loved flowers. When I was young, he grew marigolds, geraniums, alyssum, and other plants in the basement under artificial light. When he built his new house, he purchased and built a Lord and Burnham greenhouse and spent many a winter night meticulously planting seeds in his plant trays and carefully watering them with the appropriate nozzles and sprays. Miracle Grow was his “go to” plant food and the result was gardens full of thick, colorful growing flowers and planters and hanging baskets groaning under the weight of the thick lush flora.IMG_0124 Whenever I see flower beds or go to the spring flower show at Phipps Conservatory here in Pittsburgh( a National Historic Landmark- built by Lord and Burnham), I think of my dad. IMG_0126 When the plants came out of the greenhouse and were ready to be planted, my dad the engineer, devised a quick way to plant them. He had a drill with an over-sized auger and would drill the hole and yours truly would plant literally hundreds and hundreds of flowers in the beds every year. It was amazing how spring came to life at my dad’s house in Wexford and also our old house on Siebert Road.
My current road riding routine includes stops to enjoy the sights of the back roads of Sewickley, Pa. I will climb to Allegheny Country Club and sit on the bench and watch the golfers approach the holes on the back nine.IMG_0145 The lush green fairways, and the manicured greens remind me of my old caddie days and I take the time to drink it all in on sunny days. I pass horse farms and stop again to visit the horses grazing in the field. Sometimes they make their way over to the fence where I am standing wondering if I have an apple for them? Power Bars and Cliff Bars are not to their liking but maybe I might start bringing an apple or two for their enjoyment? Climbs up out of Sewickley back home are steep but I don’t ride them the way I used to, suffering to keep up with my group. I drop the gearing down and spin my way to the top without taxing myself too much. It is a much more enjoyable way to ride as the 60 year old kid. I enjoy the back roads and even though I can’t wait to get back in the woods on my mountain bike, I do enjoy the road with the sights and scents of spring- including the horse manure. 🙂
Forsythia is another blooming bush that is verdant in the spring. My mom used to bring in sprigs from our bush on snowy spring days and ” force” the blooms in a vase of water.IMG_0167 It was her way to welcome spring although Pennsylvania spring weather was not always cooperative. My dad never planted anything before Memorial Day but we were in high gear on those following weekends. It cut into my riding routine a little bit, but I enjoyed the time with my dad and always managed to get my rides in somehow.
As we age, we tend to appreciate things a little more. I am enjoying the spring and enjoying the growth and scents of an awakening earth. It is great to do it from the seat of a bicycle. You can enjoy life and “stop and smell the roses.” Thanks for reading and enjoy the spring. IMG_0134