Arguably, Three Rivers Stadium was the most important architectural work to my youth. Soon enough after our move to Youngstown, Ohio, my parents started taking us to Pirates home games. I think my dad procured the tickets at work.
Some of my earliest memories involve car rides to those games. Back then, industrious tourist promoters mapped the Pittsburgh region with colored routes (orange leads to downtown, for example) since this was even before many of the interstate highways provided more direct paths. If I recall correctly, the colored routes did not necessarily include an indication of direction, so you could get turned around and be heading away from the city without really knowing it. That must have been fun with a small child and a pair of petulant teenagers.
Once we arrived and saw the huge bowl that awaited us, it was all worth it. I can still generate the same sense of anticipation just thinking about entering the gates. I would be the first to admit that there are a number of insane aspects to our municipal stadium construction, but the experience of traversing those dim concrete interiors and emerging to a green landscape can take your breath away.
We tried to arrive early, because, well- that’s my family. Also, the players would talk to fans during batting practice. I wazs never that invested in which side of the stands we found our seats. I was downright ecumenical in my willingness to support any player who talked to me. If I recall correctly, I became a lifelong fan of Don Sutton one afternoon.
While the rest
of the family was occupied with the program and maintaining the scorecard, I was occasionally indulged with tchotchkes, notably picture cards for the entire home team. While I could be swayed, I was vastly aware that the Pirates were tremendous during those years.
Perhaps that was the age when you had to be exposed to great athletes because their miraculous feats remain conceivable. Ask any youth playing in their yard, counting down to the end of the game in their head just so they can create the game winner. I still marvel at the replays in my head of Roberto Clemente catching a fly ball and Willie Stargell hitting a home run and Kent Tekulve pitching submarine style. Word was that Stargell owned a restaurant nearby and whenever he hit one out, then the food was free for all the patrons. Also, I heard that Tekulve rose to the major leagues from American Legion ball. Three Rivers felt like a home because of the stories.
Clemente was the superhero, even if others were faster or hit the ball further. (I don’t know that any were or did.) His heart proved the largest when he died and Three Rivers never felt quite the same. I wasn’t there for the embarrassments of the 1980’s, though I lived in the city and occasionally attended games during the resurgence that came later. The second whammy of being at a game when the announced shared the news that Thurman Munson had died cast a long shadow across that infield.
THe Pirates and Roberto Clemente taught me a lot as a child. I was more than ready when they imploded the stadium. The city certainly seemed to be. Every now and then, I return and stumble upon a rusty sign that identifies some out of the way place as part of the blue route. I think about following it to see where it goes, but I know that it won;t be marked in any helpful way. I’m okay with that, but the new highways are so much more convenient.
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