When I was a kid growing up in Glassport, riding the tricycle was about the only athletic feat I performed.
I graduated to roller skates, but the attempt to transition to a bicycle was a short story. At the beginning, it was a series of scraped knees and bloody chins. The end followed quickly and dramatically -- a crash into a parked car, wrecking the bicycle.
I was the youngest of four sisters, with no brothers to tease or roughhouse with me or teach me to play catch. My father's pleasure was work. He filled any leisure time by dead-heading the roses, tending to his vegetable garden or maybe reading the newspaper.
So it was my mother who introduced me to sports. She had three older brothers who talked baseball as well as played baseball -- pickup games, mostly, but her brother Jake played for an organized Oil City baseball team and my mother was a faithful fan.
Most of the rules of the game were familiar to her from dinner table talk; the rest she learned watching almost every game Jake played. As well as following Jake's plays, she had her eyes set on one of his teammates, doubling her interest in the game. Her affection for him faded, but her love of baseball did not.
From the time I was in first grade, I would come home from school during baseball season to find my mother sitting in the kitchen, her head bent toward the small radio on the counter broadcasting the Pirates game. My mother was burdened with a restless nature, never sitting quietly during the day, always busying herself, mostly in the kitchen -- ironing, baking, cleaning.
When the Pirates were playing, however, no chore could divert her attention. She was practically part of the crowd at Forbes Field, smiling and hollering as Rosey Rowswell shouted, "Open the window, Aunt Minnie, here she comes. ... It's another win for the Bucs!"
If Rosey or Bob Prince failed to deliver good news, the expression on my mother's face reported it. The words coming from the radio became familiar to me, but I wanted to know why she was excited or what made her disappointed. Why did she shush me when the batter hit into a double play? And what was a double play anyway?
She explained it all to me. I learned all the rules of the game from my mother and learned to love baseball, too, the only sport I fully understand.
My mother never did see the Pirates play at Forbes Field. In order to get there, she faced two choices: ride three streetcars or endure a trip in the car with my father, whose driving skills she questioned, leading inevitably to her threatening to jump out of the car.
She preferred to avoid the hassle and enjoy the game in peace.
When I came home for summers during college, the scene was much the same, only my mother sat in the living room with her ear bent to the sound of the game from the television instead of radio. Cataracts and glaucoma had taken her vision, robbing her of the chance to actually see her Pirates play. My husband tried to coax her to go to Forbes Field with us, to actually be among the crowd and hear the cheering, eat a hot dog. She never would go.
Maybe as my mother listened to the games at home, she imagined the faces of Hank Greenberg, Dixie Walker, Ralph Kiner and the other old Pirates. Or maybe she envisioned the old Oil City team that she was still rooting for.
What matters is she loved the game and the Pirates. And if she were listening to her Pirates play today, I know my mother would be smiling.
Janet Moritz of Shadyside can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Baseball Lore" submissions during the Pirates season, in addition to 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.