"Baseball for me was ... born within ... given to me as a gift from God." -- Willie Stargell, #8
I was between a feeding and a changing -- an infant in my mother's arms, all of seven days old. A baseball game was being played that afternoon while we listened on the radio.
It must have been an important game -- mom hung on every pitch. Some expectant mothers listen to classical music. During the recent months, while I was safe in the womb, Mom listened to Bob Prince and Jim Woods doing Pirates baseball play-by-play. I was delivered just in time, a week before Oct. 13, 1960.
Wrapped in a comforter, restless, my mother held me close. Then something remarkable happened. There was a tremendous cheer as the announcer frantically cried that the Pirates' Bill Mazeroski had hit a home run over the left field wall. The Pirates had won the World Series. Pandemonium ensued.
As family legend goes, my mother was so excited following the home run that she accidentally dropped me on my head. Like a veteran infielder who had just committed an untimely error, she quickly scooped me up, brushed me off and went about her business. My siblings insist that this singular "alleged" event determined, more than anything, how I turned out.
Fast forward seven years to 1967. It was the turbulent 1960s, but my brothers, sisters and I were none the wiser. My parents protected their children well, allowing us to be children. They decided to take my younger brother and me to a Pirates game that year -- our first.
Forbes Field was our destination, and we parked along an Oakland street lined with trees. We walked many blocks before reaching an odd-looking, curved building. We approached the arched entrance as the crowd grew larger. Tickets in hand, my dad made sure we paired up -- one child, one adult -- as we inched through the gate.
Moments later, just inside this chaotic place, a man handed me an actual baseball bat. I looked over my shoulder to see another man handing a bat to my brother. We were amazed.
We made our way to our seats high along the first base side. I reasoned years later that it had to be the first base side because I recalled that when a certain Pirate player came to bat, back turned to us, his large number "8" was easily seen. The player batted left-handed -- just like me.
Of all the images that remain in my mind about that day, the most enduring happened in the seventh inning. The public address announcer asked that everyone stand, and that all fans who had received a bat hold their souvenir high in the air. My brother and I did just that, arms held high.
We witnessed an ocean of bats throughout the grandstand, as far as we could see. I felt a sense of awe at the vast number of people gathered in this one place on that magical afternoon.
Years later, I took my young son and younger nephew to a Pirates game -- my nephew's first. Three Rivers Stadium was our destination. Most of the outfield seats in the 59,000-plus capacity stadium were covered with a giant tarp -- an attempt to scale down the space. Fans filled about half of the remaining seats. I felt disappointed.
No doubt my perception of a small crowd was made worse by the scale of the stadium. Then something remarkable happened. Following the national anthem but before the first pitch, my 7-year-old nephew looked at me and asked in a sincere voice, "Uncle John, is everyone in the world here today?"
I could only smile at his innocence. At the same time I was made keenly aware of the person I had become. As the game progressed I thought about how children (who are allowed to be children) often perceive the world. As we grow older most people lose that sense of magic, that sense of awe.
This lesson struck home as the image of all those baseball bats flashed in my mind -- an image that has endured since the seventh inning on Bat Day at Forbes Field in the summer of 1967, when my little brother and I innocently stood, arms stretched high above our heads, parents at our side, cheering on our beloved Pirates.
I believe that left-handed Pirate who wore number 8 had it right about baseball -- "a gift from God."
John Reddick, an architect in Butler, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Baseball Lore" submissions throughout 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.