First Pitch: High Enough

A large stadium.

Bigger than life as you could imagine.

People packed to the left, right, in front, and behind you.

You look to your left while sitting on the third base side, staring at the fans over the outfield wall. You’ve never seen this many people before.

The whole experience is larger than life as you know it to this point.

Your parents sit on one side of you. Your grandparents sit on another. You are maybe four or five years old.

At least that’s how I recall the brief flashes of the first baseball game I remembered attending.

The game was at Memorial Stadium between the Baltimore Orioles and whoever the Orioles were playing on that night in the late-80s.

It’s not the most memorable game I’ve been to. It’s the earliest one I can remember. I remember other flashes of other games.

Games from Camden Yards.

Falling asleep in the front row of the outfield and getting the worst sunburn on my legs that I can recall.

Watching Brady Anderson run over in front of Oriole-version Andy Van Slyke and rob him of a routine fly ball third out, for some reason.

The horrible, yet jam packed Upper Deck in center field at Three Rivers Stadium during the home run derby. Driving home in the back seat of my parent’s van, raving about Ken Griffey Jr. with my friend from school.

Going to Pirates games in the 1993-1995 seasons with my dad and brother, finding it easier and easier to move down closer and closer to the dugout as the games and years went on.

Driving up to PNC Park and back in one day with my college roommates to watch Oliver Perez — star of my fantasy baseball team at the time, and star of my favorite commercial ever.

(Having this commercial sent to me, after years and years of searching, was one of the top seven things that has ever happened to me in my life.)

I remember watching the pop fly, floating over my head.

One roommate to the left.

One to the right.

An old man sitting in front.

This was my chance!

I’d finally catch a foul ball!

The ball traveled too far, disappearing over the wall above, and my hopes were dashed.

I felt like Tony Torasco in the 1996 ALCS.

Except Jeffrey Maier wasn’t sitting in the deck above me.

The ball dropped back down into the field of play.

Floating straight down.

I’ve never seen a baseball heading toward me like this.

I’ve seen them flying over the wall heading the other direction, the majestic launch of the ball off the bat propelling the stadium to rise, the lights to flash, and the cheers to roar.

I’ve seen them flying over my head as I sat in the outfield seats, feeling more like Yogi Berra in the 1960 World Series.

This one was heading straight for me.

I had my chance to catch a foul ball!

All of these games!

All of these years!

It was finally happening!

Wait!

Why the fuck am I holding the wings, guys?!

(This is why you never sit in the middle.)

The old man in front of me reached up and easily caught the ball. His family celebrating. My roommates halting their half-ass attempts, while wondering why I didn’t do anything.

“I had the wings!”

I haven’t eaten at Quaker Steak & Lube since.

Looking back now — after spending the better part of the last decade dodging line drives speeding toward my head in the McKechnie Field press box — I’m kind of glad that old man got the ball.

In fact, I’d even like to think he caught the ball, heard us complaining, and thought to himself — with his elder wisdom: “That’s why you don’t sit in the middle, kid!”

Some live games easily stand out for me. Cal Ripken Jr. playing his 2,130th consecutive game, tying Lou Gehrig’s record.

John Van Benschoten hitting his first major league home run, moments after I explained to my girlfriend next to me that he might be a better hitter than a pitcher.

I saw some of the biggest moments in this game’s history.

I would propose to that girlfriend a few years later at PNC Park.

The Pirate Parrot delivered a bottle of champagne and a basket of cotton candy and shelled peanuts to our seat as I dropped down and presented the ring I had been nervously carrying in my side cargo short pocket.

(There are several things wrong in that last paragraph, in retrospect.)

She said yes.

(Still, I learned a lot about how to win as an underdog by watching Josh Fogg battling Randy Johnson late one night on TV.)

The old ladies sitting behind us asked to see the ring and excitedly approved.

(They didn’t learn anything else about Josh Fogg.)

I got a call from the Pirates marketing department a few days later, offering a wedding package on the field at PNC Park.

Tempting, but we were two kids just out of college, with a crazy amount of student loan debt and we really wanted to have a wedding near our friends and family.

Also, she said no.

That student loan debt made us grow up quick, making us slowly realizing that we weren’t looking to grow in the same directions.

I returned from a road trip watching Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon making their debuts in Bradenton.

I was hauling orange juice in a red cooler filled with ice, rocking around in the back seat of that Jetta TDI that was my transportation the first few years of the site. It was the only thing I owned in life that I hadn’t sold to that date in order to keep writing about baseball.

Shortly after returning from that trip, we separated.

I got the black cat, and had eight gallons of Mixon’s Orange Juice to drink by myself, along with melted orange swirl ice cream that didn’t make the drive. (Dry ice in a sealed styrofoam cooler with the windows down the whole way back does the trick.)

We divorced a year later. I moved to Bradenton, where I went all-in on this site, covering hundreds of baseball games over the next few years.

That’s where I met my current wife, who is the love of my life.

(Side note: She might start helping out with Pittsburgh Baseball Network in the future while her school is shut down. Although right now her school is shut down, which means she is operating like most teachers around this country and shutting down on the couch when she’s not working on her laptop. A few weeks of quick, peaceful work on her laptop, surrounded by three cats, who at some moments make her pine for a classroom full of 30 high school seniors.

Anyway, she’s from Atlanta, but doesn’t really follow baseball, so I think this could work. I’ll have more PBN updates soon, but you can subscribe early by subscribing to this site now.)

I’ve been going to baseball games for over 30 years of my life.

I was fortunate enough to have parents who were both baseball fans.

One from Baltimore. One from Pittsburgh.

Somehow getting married in 1980, months after the 1979 World Series.

They had a son a few years later, months before the Baltimore Orioles and Cal Ripken Jr. won a World Series.

He grew up an Orioles fan, with an interest in following the Pirates as a secondary team.

Baseball is in my blood.

I’ve seen so many games over the years that I’ve been fortunate enough to forget more games than most people get a chance to attend in their lifetime.

The games that do stand out, stand out for different reasons.

Like my most memorable game.

A random game at Camden Yards between the Orioles and Yankees. I don’t even remember the game.

I remember begging to go. My parents were going with my grandpa on my mom’s side to a game. The Damn Yankees were in concert after the game.

I had been to a Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium with my parents some time earlier, and saw Huey Lewis and the News after the game.

That was my first concert, and on that day baseball created room in my heart for another love that pump through my blood for the rest of my life: Live music.

I begged my parents to let me go. I wanted to experience that combo again.

A baseball game live! A live concert after! My two loves in life.

It was like when Mark and Barnett were talking at that party while Jessica was glancing over from talking with whoever it was Barnett was dating at the time. I was Mark at this point in time, and this time I didn’t have to make a choice, which I guess makes me polygamous if we continue this metaphor. But that’s where it ends, because the loves in my life weren’t both crazy, and they didn’t make me choose between loving something my own age, or something much, much younger than me. They taught me I could have both.

Sorry, Boomers, if you didn’t understand that last paragraph.

My parents wanted to take me, but Camden Yards was too new. The game was too sold out. And they were too “in their late-30s with two young kids” at the time to afford the scalper prices.

I couldn’t go, because the only extra ticket they had was my grandpa’s.

He had lung cancer at the time, and was going with my parents. As I sit here typing at age 36, with the wisdom of adulthood, I wonder if it might have been his last chance to attend a game with his daughter and son-in-law?

I whined all day for them to let me go.

Typical Millennial, right?

It didn’t matter to him on that night. He saw how important the game and the concert was for me. Against his daughter’s protest, he gave me his ticket.

I still remember that game and that concert, and as a baseball writer who obsesses over music daily, I’d say it was a moment that shaped my future.

My grandpa died later that year.

I don’t remember if I went to another game with him after that night, but it doesn’t matter.

I remember the games that were memorable. That includes games in the back yard.

His house, where I broke his neighbor’s window with a giant plastic baseball and a giant orange bat.

My house, where I once lined a Wiffle ball back to his head. I don’t know what he was thinking as the ball fluttered toward him.

I dropped the bat and ran to the tree that was first base.

He might have thought “I’ve never seen a baseball heading toward me like this.”

That’s all he would have had time to think. I stared in child horror as his mouth formed a surprised “O” and the ball hit him square in the lips.

An “O.” From the mouth of an Orioles fan, when all he can do is react.

Baseball was in his blood, too.

That explains how it got into mine.

Those of you who also have baseball in your blood are left with no opportunity for baseball in the foreseeable future.

No opportunity for those moments with family and friends that would define the future of our lives.

So on this day, if you find yourself missing baseball, take a moment to look back at your most memorable games.

Then think a little bit more about who made them memorable, and who put baseball in your blood.

SONG OF THE DAY

DAILY QUIZ


RANDOM STUFF OF THE DAY

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THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

By John Dreker

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date.

Christopher Bostick, IF/OF for the 2017-18 Pirates. He came to the Pirates with no big league experience. They gave up minor league catcher Taylor Gushue to acquire him after the 2016 season. Bostick played briefly with the Pirates during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, before being sold to the Miami Marlins in August of 2018. He batted .276 in 22 games with the Pirates, with three starts at second base, one in left field and 18 games off the bench. Bostick batted .214 in 13 games with the Marlins, then spent the entire 2019 season in the minors.

Corey Hart, 1B/RF for the 2015 Pirates. He played nine seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers (2004-12), hitting .276 with 154 homers and 508 RBIs. Hart had knee surgery and missed the entire 2013 season, then signed with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in 2014. He batted .203 with six homers in 68 games. He then signed with the Pirates prior to the 2015 season. Hart lasted just 35 games, hitting .222 with two homers and nine RBIs. He retired after the season. He was a two-time All-Star, who twice topped 30 homers in a season.

Gus Dugas, outfielder for the Pirates in 1930 and 1932. When he joined the Pirates in September of 1930, it was his first shot at the big leagues and he had the unenviable task of trying to break into an outfield that had two Hall of Famers (the Waner brothers) and 24-year-old Adam Comorosky, who hit .313 with 119 RBI’s, 47 doubles and a league leading 23 triples that season. Dugas hit well in his nine games, batting .290 with seven walks, but not surprisingly he was back in the minors the following season. He would have to really impress the Pirates to earn a spot back in the majors and he did just that in 1931. Playing for Kansas City of the American Association, Gus hit .419 in 93 games with 44 extra base hits. He was with the Pirates the entire 1932 season, playing mostly off the bench. He started only 14 games all year, including five of the last six games of the season. In 55 games he had 97 at-bats and hit .237 with three homers and 12 RBIs.

In December of 1932, the Pirates traded Dugas to the Phillies as part of a three-team deal that saw them acquire Freddie Lindstrom from the Giants in return. With Lindstrom in center field for 1933, the Pirates then had three future Hall of Famers in the outfield and another two in the infield, Pie Traynor and Arky Vaughan. Dugas played two more seasons in the majors and another ten in the minors before retiring. He was a .327 minor league hitter in 1,361 total games. His great-grandson Andrew Carignan was a relief pitcher for the 2011-12 Oakland A’s.

Pat Veltman, catcher for the 1934 Pirates. He played in the majors for five different seasons prior to joining the 1934 Pirates, but he played a grand total of just 11 games. Pittsburgh took him in the October 1933 Rule 5 draft from the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League after he hit .332 with 12 homers and 30 doubles. Veltman was with the Pirates the entire season, but after starting four of the first nine games behind the plate, he played just eight more games all season and went to bat just 11 more times. That was his last season in the majors. He returned to the minors for three seasons before retiring. Veltman batted .107 in 28 at-bats for the Pirates and drove in the only two runs of his big league career while with the team, one in the first game of the year and another in his last game.

Roy Thomas, outfielder for the 1908 Pirates. He was in his tenth season with the Philadelphia Phillies when his contract was purchased by the Pirates on June 1, 1908. At 34 years old, his skills had somewhat diminished but he was adept at getting on base and using his speed to score runs. Thomas had led the NL in walks during seven of his nine full seasons in Philadelphia. The other two seasons he finished second and third in the league. He also batted over .300 five times and stole 228 bases with the Phillies. He had played just six games in 1908 prior to coming to the Pirates, but after joining Pittsburgh he went right into the everyday center field spot. Thomas would hit .256 with 49 walks and 52 runs scored in 102 games for the Pirates that 1908 season. He led all NL outfielders in fielding range in 1908, something he also did three times with the Phillies. The Pirates released him in 1909 so he could sign with the Boston Doves. In 1910 he returned to the Phillies for two more seasons before retiring.

Al Lawson, pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He started his big league career with the Boston Beaneaters on May 13, 1890, facing off against future Hall of Fame pitcher Mickey Welch of the New York Giants. Welch walked away with the 7-2 win and Lawson allowed 12 hits and four walks. Boston had apparently seen enough and two weeks later he was pitching for Pittsburgh. The 1890 Alleghenys went 23-113, the worst record in franchise history, but their start wasn’t nearly as bad as you would think with that overall record. They were 8-16 when Lawson joined the team for his first game. In the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies on May 28th, he lost a 12-10 slugfest. Just five days later, the Chicago Colts (Cubs) knocked Lawson out of the game, going on to win 14-1. It would be his last game in the majors. He played minor league ball until 1905 and also managed a few seasons in the minors, during and after his playing days.

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