It was a warm and beautiful day in the summer of 1969 when my 5-year-old son and I were outside Forbes Field, first in line to purchase two of the best available seats to that day's Pirates game.
The cost was more than $7 a ticket, which was at lot of money back then. But it was my son's first professional game, and I wanted to share it with him in the best possible way.
While I was growing up in the 1940s and '50s, the Pirates were king in Pittsburgh. Steelers football was available then, but that was long before it exploded in the '70s. Professional hockey was not yet a major draw in the 'Burgh, though of course that would change, too.
As a little kid I followed the Pirates, and when they were on TV, which was rare back then, I would be glued to the game and, especially, to Roberto Clemente.
Trading baseball cards was a big thing. Flipping cards with an opponent was also big, but we never knew that the cards would be so valuable in later years. Still, we mulled how great it would be to win a baseball card of or get a baseball autographed by a famous player like Clemente.
In our teen years my friends and I would play ball until dark. We also spent time outside the walls of Forbes Field, climbing the trees in Schenley Park looking over the outfield. I remember calling out to Willie Mays in center field. He turned and waved to us.
Back then they would open the gates to the left field bleachers and allow anyone entry in the seventh inning. We got to see many late-inning victories. What a thrill.
After my son and I purchased our tickets for that 1969 game, we ran to the fence where the players were taking batting practice. There was The Great One standing right in front of us.
I said to him on my son's behalf, "Hey Roberto, how about an autograph?"
He looked at me and spoke in his broken English: "Let me hit some balls and I will return."
The wait for him seemed like hours, and the crowd wanting autographs grew and grew. It grew so much that I told my son that we might not get what we came for. Then, just like that, Roberto was done hitting and approached the area where the crowd was waiting. He remembered us, found us in the crowd and gave my son an autographed baseball. We put that ball on display on my son's dresser.
As the years went by, that ball stayed on that dresser until one fine day when my son and his friends needed a baseball. They used the Clemente ball. When I saw that used ball afterward, I was heartbroken. You couldn't make out the seams of the ball, let alone the signature.
That was decades ago, but just the other day I received a call from my son, who was vacationing with his family in Bradenton, Fla.
He told me that he had been to a Pirates spring training game with his wife and baby daughter, and young slugger Pedro Alvarez noticed them all decked out in Pirates gear.
Pedro got my son's attention and motioned that he was tossing a ball for my granddaughter. My son dropped the ball, however, and it was claimed by another child in the crowd. Pedro saw what happened and disappeared into the dugout, came back, located my son and motioned again that he was tossing a ball for my little granddaughter.
This time my son caught the ball carrying the autograph of Pedro Alvarez. Many people expect Alvarez to be the next Clemente.
Ray Knavish of Baldwin Borough, a retired Duquesne Light Co. supervisor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Baseball Lore" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published April 5, 2013 4:00 AM