Baseball Lore: In far-off Calif., he inherited dad's passion for Pirates

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I was 7, Clint 6. We knew the entire Pirates lineup front to back and had studied the team so much that we had a good idea of who Jim Leyland would use to pinch-hit before he made the decision. We were freakish in that sense, even if we were just young bucs.

Grandpap and Grandma had met in Coraopolis in the 1930s, so Dad was indoctrinated with Pittsburgh sports just as Clint and I were. Dad had always rooted for the Bucs, Steelers, Pens -- we followed along in his footsteps.

When we walked into Dodger Stadium that summer evening, we stopped to take it all in before sitting down -- smelling the crisp air, seeing the fans and dreaming of what would become of our baseball obsession.

I knew Clint was thinking the same things I was, and so we were content. After a few pitches, Dad explained how he and Grandpap had watched Willie Stargell hit a ball out of the stadium in 1969. He pointed beyond the awkward aluminum roof that covers the bleachers at Dodger Stadium. Clint and I were awestruck, but proud.

Dad also explained how he had watched Roberto Clemente throw runners out at home plate from the right field wall, only bouncing the ball once or twice, max. Clemente was, and still is, Dad's favorite player.

The Pirates wound up winning the game. We stuck around until the seats had nearly cleared. Somehow, either by luck or by Dad having a great plan, we were there long enough to encounter Pirates catcher Don Slaught after he'd showered and changed.

Clint and I were so happy to see him and, at the same time, a little intimidated to be so close to a real ballplayer. He came up and said hi, signed our baseballs and asked if we planned to be major leaguers one day. We answered in the affirmative. That was one of the best moments Clint and I shared with Mom and Dad.

Things unfolded differently, however, than Clint and I had planned. Although my brother ended up being pretty great at center field while mirroring Andy Van Slyke's style, he wasn't good enough to play where we told Don Slaught we were going to play. Clint wound up working with Dad -- today they own a construction company together in Southern California.

I took a different route because working construction with Clint and Dad meant locking horns with them and I couldn't take it. I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2001 and served until 2007. Mom, Dad, Clint and my sister, Lauren, were sad to see me go off to war, but they knew I was pursuing a viable alternative to the major league baseball career I'd dreamed of and abandoned.

A few years later I graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a bachelor's degree. Toward the end of my studies a professor recommended I pursue a master's degree, and of all the places he recommended I go, the University of Pittsburgh was a top candidate. I got really excited, applied to the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and got in. My wife, Emily, and I now live here.

I'm so grateful baseball season is upon us once again. Every time I think back on my childhood and the great experiences I had, I remember the fanatical kid I used to be -- and still am.

Thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates, this great city and to Mom, Dad, Clint and Lauren for letting us go after our dreams. Let's go, Bucs!

neigh_city - pirates - neigh_west - intelligencer

William Cole of Shadyside, a University of Pittsburgh graduate student, can be reached at wrcolangelo@gmail.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Baseball Lore" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.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.


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