by Thad Mumau
Our family lived in North Carolina, and every year during Dad ’s vacation week, we visited Indiana, Pennsylvania, which is about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Indiana was my Dad’s hometown and was where his mother and sister lived. It was also the town where I was born.
Baseball had entered my life a couple years earlier when my Dad came home from work one day and handed me a paper bag from the Western Auto store. In it was a hunk of dark brown leather that was flat as a pancake and appeared to have five stubby fingers. The Johnny Sain model fielder’s glove ignited a romance that is still blazing.
Initially, it was fueled by sessions of throw and catch with my Dad almost every evening in our yard. No matter how hard he had worked—and it was always hard because he made a living changing tires the old-fashioned way—when he got home, he would go in the house, put down his lunch pail, have a drink of water and return with his battered old catcher’s mitt that he had from his high school days. I was waiting with my glove and a baseball.
While tossing the ball back and forth, my Dad taught me fundamentals of the game of baseball. After supper, from the spring through the fall, we listened to Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games on the radio. There was more static than anything else as we strained to hear the action over station KDKA.
More often than not, Dad was disappointed with the game’s outcome. He wasn’t surprised, though, because the Pirates were terrible. No matter. My Dad loved them and he loved baseball even more. Just hearing those games seemed to trigger a certain energy from him.
What I remember about that first trip to Forbes was that, after batting practice, the batting cage was rolled out to deep center field, where it remained—inside the fence—during the game. I remember that the Pirates took infield, and that their young right fielder made throws to third base and home plate that took my breath away. I can still remember my Dad, a smile on his lips, telling me to notice how fast the Pittsburgh second baseman got rid of the ball when practicing double plays.
And so it was that five years later, the once downtrodden Pirates were taking the National League by storm. Once again, my Dad and I listened to their games on the radio. We had only done that occasionally the past couple years, but this battling bunch of Buccos had grabbed our attention.
The colorful accounts of the games came from Bob Prince and his sidekick Jim Woods, known to Pirates fans as the “Gunner and Possum.” Prince’s excitement over a big Pittsburgh hit or defensive play was always evident, and it sparked our excitement as well.
When the season stretched into late August and early September, and the Pirates were still leading the National League standings, every game grew more intense. Could they hold on? Could they really do it? Could they win the pennant?
Dad and I wondered those things every night, and when the score was close, we would slide to the edge of our seats in anticipation, trying to help Law or Friend or Face get one more key out or pleading for Clemente or Groat or Skinner to come through with one more clutch hit.
There were times that we almost felt we were there— Forbes Field, County Stadium, Candlestick Park—wherever the Pirates were playing. We even applauded outstanding plays described by Prince and stood a few times when the great Clemente gunned down an adventurous base runner or when Maz somehow completed a double play that had not seemed possible.
We experienced many thrilling moments as our beloved Bucs rallied in the late innings to pull out one victory after another. When that happened, we loved hearing Prince, in that gravelly voice of his, say, “We had ’em all the way.”
A few times, when the radio crackled with interference, Dad would drive us a little ways to the top of a hill a few miles from our house so we could get a clear signal over the car radio.
It was fun listening to the Pirates come from behind to win again and again. And watching my Dad finally get pleasure, and not pain, from being a Pirates fan. I would go to sleep smiling about that.
Those are great memories.
Bill Mazeroski’s historic home run was the perfect ending, of course, not just for a very unusual World Series, but for a very wonderful summer for my Dad and me. The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates are simply a downright fabulous story.
Mumau has been a writer for more than 48 years, covering some of the sports greats, including Michael Jordan, John Wooden, Jack Nicklaus and Dean Smith. He can be reached at email@example.com. Mumau’s book, “Had ‘Em All the Way,” is available at amazon.com. It is his seventh book.