Rare feat by Pirates 16 years ago today rekindled a passion

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The year was 1997. I had grown to hate baseball.

The strike that prematurely ended the 1994 season had finished me for once and for all, and I was determined that I would never again darken the gates of Three Rivers Stadium. I was done with the game. What I didn't know was that love would change everything.

In the summer of 1996, I met a striking red-headed woman at a conference in Washington, D.C.. We struck up a conversation that continues to this day. We fell in love and made plans to get married in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1997.

When she lost her job in early spring of that year, she moved to Pittsburgh from northern Virginia to work and plan the wedding. She took a number of temp jobs, eventually being hired by Ticketmaster to sell Pirates tickets over the phone.

She dragged me that spring to a game on a cold afternoon against the Reds, and I muttered some unkind words about the game and the teams as we both froze to death. The tickets were free, as this was one of the few perks of her job, but I was still an ingrate. Little did I know that things were about to change.

We started to attend a few more games, and as July approached, she managed to procure tickets for a fireworks night against the Astros.

That was Saturday, July 12, 1997 -- the day my baseball world got rocked.

We sat as Francisco Cordova threw his junky stuff and baffled Houston hitters. As the game wore into the sixth inning and remained scoreless, with one of the teams hitless, you could feel a palpable buzz in the air. My soon-to-be-wife started to say something about Cordova's rare performance and I shouted, "No! Not a word! Trust me on this one!"

Cordova came off the mound in the ninth, having pitched a gem. Still, with the crowd buzzing, no one used the magic words to describe his achievement. The Pirates failed to score in the bottom of the inning. It was a scoreless tie, so Ricardo Rincon came in to pitch the 10th. Kept Cordova's streak going, too.

Then came the bottom of the 10th, and the Pirates actually got a couple runners on base. Then the magic moment -- pinch-hitter Mark Smith drilled a massive home run over the left-field wall.

Lanny Frattare called it right: "Home run! No hitter! You've got it all!"

That night, I fell in love with the game of baseball again. I got excited like I hadn't since I was a kid.

I have followed the team and have had my heart broken every year since, but it has allowed me some magic moments, including Andrew McCutchen hitting three homers in one night as a rookie, and even Homer Bailey of the Reds no-hitting the Bucs last season. (Some fans never see a no-hitter; I've been blessed to see two.)

This year, we took the plunge -- we bought a 10-game ticket package and followed it up with a couple of extra games. Walking into PNC Park this year has made us feel like a child on Christmas morning. There's a genuine excitement -- the atmosphere is loud and boisterous.

That buzz I described from 1997 is there, and it's louder than ever, as the Pirates have given us reasons to be excited.

My ability to revel in it was all due to July 12, 1997, which resulted from a chance meeting the summer before. It took that beautiful redhead and 10 innings of magic, but I've fallen in love again.


Mark Yunt of Ambridge, a customer service representative, can be reached at enoughisenough0616@yahoo.com.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Baseball Lore" submissions during the Pirates season, in addition to 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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