My family rarely went to professional baseball games when I was a kid growing up with three siblings in Ellwood City.
We went to our own Little League games, but never the "real deal." We didn't have the money. The only time us kids would go would be through class trips and free tickets from relatives.
Still, my father was a huge baseball fan and would watch games on television all the time. He would talk about how there's nothing better than the sights and sounds of a summer ballgame, yet he never instigated a family outing to see the Pirates. He hated dealing with public places and people.
I often wondered what he was like as a kid. It was hard for me to imagine. I had always assumed he came out of the womb, middle-aged and asking mom where the remote was. In fact, he had been through a lot in his childhood, battling polio at a young age.
I remember my mother showing me photographs of him from the early 1960s, leaning against a chair with his leg brace. He would grow up, and the leg brace would grow with him, bigger sizes to fit his maturing frame.
But his brace never defined him as a person. My childhood friends would ask, "What's wrong with your dad?" And I would say, "Oh, he had polio as a kid," somehow always surprised they had noticed, as if they had detected a new haircut or shoes. He didn't really talk about it so I didn't either.
For some reason, the family finally got tickets to see a Pirates game when I was in college. It was one of PNC Park's bobblehead nights, and my dad loved to collect bobbleheads.
After going through the ticket area, my dad and I walked at a slow pace toward our seats, as though to the rhythm of a grandfather clock. My mom had ventured off on her own, to find my brother and his girlfriend, who were meeting us there.
The game was getting ready to start, so more and more people were headed toward their seats, many with nachos and other snacks in their hands. As we made our way through the crowd, we tried to maneuver around this one guy who had a beer in his hand. He was tall and wore a white Pirates T-shirt with Jason Bay's name and number on the back.
He was talking with a few other men who looked around his age, which could have been anywhere between 30 and 50. I slipped around the guy, but my dad brushed shoulders with him as he walked by. Feeling the brush from my dad, the guy turned his body into my dad's shoulder and spilled part of his beer on the smooth, gray concrete.
"Sorry," my dad said. The guy's beer hadn't spilled that much. Just a little off the top.
But the man squinted his eyes in anger. He kinda reminded me of someone you would have seen coaching a girls softball team, and not very nicely.
"You spilled my beer," he said.
"I'm sorry," my dad said again.
"You spilled my beer."
I looked back and forth between them. It was almost like live television. I had no idea what would happen, what would be said, what should be censored. The man just stared at my father.
I remember looking at my dad's face and seeing the same little boy as in the old picture. It was as if I had suddenly realized after 22 years that my father had had polio at one time, that he had spent weeks in the hospital away from his mom and dad as a child, that one leg was visibly weaker than the other, that he could have been taller.
The man continued to stare as we walked away, and even though my father hadn't done anything wrong, I felt embarrassed. As we walked toward our seats, I didn't really say anything. My dad didn't say anything either. I wondered what he was thinking and feeling.
Once we found our section, we discovered my mother, my brother and his girlfriend had beaten us to the seats. They already had their nachos, hot dogs and beer.
"This is great," my mother said right before the first pitch was thrown out. "We should do stuff like this more often."
"We should," said my dad. He was back to being an adult again. Although I had a feeling he had just told us a little white lie.
Writer/editor Megan McLachlan of Greenfield can be reached at email@example.com or followed at megoblog.com.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Baseball Lore" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; 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.