Kiss It Goodbye �. A Farewell to 3 Rivers Stadium
Along with 55,000 other Bucco fans, I attended the Pirates� finale at 3 Rivers Stadium (3RS). Never fear -- I had my portable TV in the parking lot, as well as in my hands as I went into the stadium and sat in my seat in Section 446, so I was also able to watch the Stiller win over Jax. And even though this isn�t the final sporting event at 3RS, it�s the final baseball game, and as a longtime Bucco fan since my youth, I think it�s appropriate and relevant to take a moment to remember the memories.
I was only 3 when Forbes Field closed, so I never attended a game at the venerable old field in the Oakland suburb of Pittsburgh. I began attending Bucco games in �73, and to me, 3 Rivers Stadium was Mecca, a special place to see the players who filled the Pirate yearbook pages and the baseball cards. For a 5-year old kid, 3 Rivers was more than just "a stadium" -- it was THE stadium, the only one I knew. And because kids play Little League baseball before they play pee-wee football, the Buccos were my first love at 3 Rivers.
During tonite�s finale, I was bombarded with vivid memories about 3RS, many of which I hadn�t thought about in years. Everyone has his or her own special memories of the ballpark�here�s mine.
- I remember "Jacket Day" in �76�.every fan got a free jacket. These jackets were cheapo raincoats that were like wearing a sauna suit. A record crowd of 51,000 fans was there that day, and Dave Parker belted a grand slam to lead the way.
- I remember a going to a game with my dad, around �77. Had great seats in the 2nd level, right behind home plate. Keith Moreland hit a foul tip, which came screaming just over the net behind home plate. Instinctively, I dove across the old man�s lap, and snared the ball with a spectacular catch. Only problem, was that I knocked over what had been a brand new beer of my dad�s. Boy, was he pissed. Back then, I had no concept of beer economics at a big-league ballpark.
- I remember as a kid watching a Bucco game from the 6th level, in right field. Every time Stargell came up to the plate, this loud guy nearby would scream in a booming voice, "C�mon, Willie, hit one up here!" Of course, "up here" was some 500 feet away from the plate. Funny thing was, with Stargell, you thought it was possible on any given at-bat.
- I remember going to a game with my Boy Scout troop, in �77 (as I recall). We had good seats in the 200-level in left field. Dale Murphy hit a late-inning HR to bust open a tight game. As soon as the ball landed near our section for the HR, this fellow Scout, John Sobczak, angrily whipped a tennis ball onto the field, which bounced a couple times and settled near 2B. The umps had to stop the game to remove the tennis ball from the field of play.
- I remember the stretch run of �78. I went to a twi-night doubleheader on a Friday nite in August �78, and the Bucs won both games. The next morning, my family got terrible news that a relative was in the hospital in critical condition. My whole family had ducats to attend the day game that day, but with this emergency, my older brother and I hoofed it to the trolley stop and went to 3RS ourselves, while the rest of the family went to the hospital. After another big Bucco win, we exited the stadium, and my brother thought he heard the PA announcer call his name, to telephone home. We went to a phone booth outside Gate C (back then they actually had phone booths), and my bro placed the call. Standing in that hot phone booth, fearing the worst news, was about the longest 2 minutes of my life. Luckily, there was no bad news�my brother had simply mis-heard the PA guy.
- I remember the stretch run of �79. I wasn�t at this particular August game, but I remember it like it happened last week. We were playing Philly, and fighting them for the NL East crown. The game was tied in the 9th inning, bases loaded for the Bucs. Rather than sending up Steve Nicosia, who�d gone 4-4 that day, Manager Chuck Tanner inserted PH Johnny Milner to face relief ace Tug McGraw. I was sitting on my parent�s back porch, listening to the game on the radio. Since there were less than 2 outs, I�m sitting there, hoping that Milner simply slaps a fly ball for the sac fly. Then Frattare says, "There�s a drive, deep right field�" and I�m thinking, "Ok, this should do it.." Frattare continues, "that ball is�GONE!!" I must have jumped 8 feet in the air. Most people remember where they were for JFK�s death�I remember where I was for Johnny Milner�s game-winning grand-slam, which buried the Phils and pushed the Bucs to the division title.
- I remember my brother sneaking into an empty 3 Rivers with a buddy of his, circa 1981, and tossing baseballs around the outfield, running the bases, and so on. During their little adventure, my bro snagged a 1-yard square piece of Tartan Turf, which was the brand-name of the original turf installed in 3 Rivers. To this day, I still have that piece of Tartan Turf, which lies next to the pair of 3RS seats I bought from the Stillers back in '97.
- I remember attending a game in late �84, courtesy of The Pittsburgh Press. I�d served on their "Pirates Fans Panel" that season, and The Press rewarded us with prime seats behind home plate, plus free chow, scorebooks, and so on. The best freebie was a copy of the pre-game stats and team notes that the announcers were provided, which, long before the World Wide Web, was pure gold to a guy like myself.
- I remember attending an �85 game with my good buddy Eddie. We had seats in the front row behind the right-centerfield wall. Jason Thompson yoked a HR, which I nearly caught on the fly with my outstretched bare hands, but the ball slithered thru my fingers. Luckily, Eddie, who was ducking from the fly ball, was in a position to snare the loose ball lying under a seat. Later that nite, we watched our escapades on TV replays of the Thompson homerun. We kept that ball in our dorm room all 4 years of our collegiate life.
- I remember a few weeks later, Eddie and I taking the trolley to Downtown for a Bucco game. A guy got on the trolley on the South Side, and says, "Did you hear the news�The Gunner died." Prior to the 1st pitch that nite, there was a moment of silence for Bob Prince, the longtime broadcaster for the Bucs. The stadium as so silent, you could hear a pin drop. As a little kid, I grew up listening to Prince and King broadcast Bucco games on KDKA.
- I remember attending a Stiller-Giants preseason game in '85, with Eddie and Dolphin Boy, another college buddy who happened to hail from Miami. Midway thru the 4th quarter of a fairly uneventful game, some drunkard got the brainy idea to shimmy across the cable that holds up the netting behind the goal post. Although the netting was not that wide, the cable stretched a long way, probably at least 120 feet. I spotted him when he was about 1/4 of the way across. Soon many fans stopped watching the game, and instead watched the drama unfold high above the turf. The guy got tuckered out half way across, and it seemed he would fall. To his credit, he gritted it out and made it all the way across, only to be greeted by a pack of security guards, who presumably whisked him off to jail.
- I remember the Fort Duquesne Bridge�.before it was painted around 1990 or so, there was graffiti along the pedestrian walkway. The best of the graffiti was fairly close to the North Side-end of the walkway, on which someone had painted, "Old Sabbath never dies�they just go to hell and rehearse". Being a die-hard Sab fan, I always got a kick out of this one during each walk across the bridge.
- I remember working at 3RS as a security guard during the summer of �88. That summer had a gritty stretch run against the Mets, which fell a bit short, similar to �78. I never told my bosses, but between getting to watch BP every game; occasionally getting to stand in one of the bullpens during the game; watching an awful lot of each game; and getting my share of free chewing tobacco from the dugouts and free brew from the beer we confiscated from fans before each game�.I�d have literally worked that job for free.
- I remember the home opener in �89, in which I organized a quality tailgate beforehand. We had kinda lousy seats in the 600 level behind home plate, but some drunk chic in the next section over occasionally stood up and pulled her shirt up for all to see. Everything is relative, and her efforts made our seats seem fairly good.
- I remember the Stiller 5-K race, held each year in June. I ran it in '95, '97, and '98. The neatest part of the race, was finishing the last 3/4 mile just outside the stadium on the inner loop, and then cutting in under the centerfield bleachers and hitting the finish line in what was medium centerfield. Shortly after the '95 race, I happened to see Carnell Lake, whom I'd apparently beaten by a slight margin (obviously, he was taking it easy!). I went up to Lake, and said, "Let's kick the Chargers' ass this year, Carnell." After each race, I made it a point to run around the outfield and infield, just to get my 2-cents worth of what it was like to play in 3 Rivers.
- I remember my brother, my dad, and I attending a game in mid-July �97. My brother had come in from out of town, and we figured we�d take our old man to a ballgame, something we hadn�t done in years. The old man, who�s never forgiven the players & owners for the two strikes that nearly killed baseball, was kind of down on the whole idea, but we dragged him down to 3RS anyway. Luckily enough, that was the nite Cordova and Rincon combined on the no-hitter, and Mark Smith blasted the game-winning HR in the bottom of the 10th. This truly was the greatest game I ever attended, and it was made more special because of the one nite of togetherness me, my bro, and my pop shared.
- I remember going to a game in '98 with my brother. We'd gotten good seats on the 3B line from a scalper. The 3B umpire made a terrible call to end a Bucco inning. My brother immediately sprinted to the railing along the 3B line, and began cussing out the umpire. This continued throughout the entire break between innings. Finally, as the next inning was about to begin, a security guard moseyed down and told my brother to beat it. As my bro turned to go back to his seat, a majority of the crowd along the third-base line gave him a loud, rousing ovation.
Farewell 3 Rivers Stadium�Thanks for the memories�
The Still Mill