Baseball lore: He went from being poor clubhouse boy to one delighted fan

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Sometime during every Pirates season, my father, John "Red" Quinlan, tells us of his summer of '42.

That was the year that Alan Stutsman, one of the local guys he knew from Lawrenceville, worked for the Pirates in the clubhouse and hired my 17-year-old father and his best friend, John "Biggie" Fisher, for summer jobs. Not knowing what lay ahead, they had the summer of their lives.

Among other stories, my father's favorite was telling us how Biggie Fisher had a ball signed by every visiting team that year, and he wished he had done the same thing because they would later be worth a small fortune.

About a year ago, he told me a story I'd never heard before. Or maybe he had told me, but I never paid attention. My mother's death and his pushing 90 have taught me not to take it for granted that I would hear his recollections again. I've learned to hang onto every word of every crazy story.

His own father passed away in 1937 when my father's youngest sister was just five days old, leaving his mother to raise seven children herself. To say they were poor just doesn't do their childhood justice. It's something I can't even imagine. But somehow they got through.

From the stories they tell, they made it mostly due to the kindness of the nuns from St. Francis Hospital and the firemen from Pittsburgh Firehouse No. 6 next door. I mention this because, needless to say, my father wasn't showing up for work looking like he stepped out of GQ magazine.

The soles of his shoes were worn through from constant use by him and his brother before him. (They were used shoes to begin with, bought at "Kaufmann's 34th Street," my grandmother's nickname for Goodwill.) He would stuff cardboard to cover the holes in the shoes and tape them up to hold them all together.

After one particular game, while he was cleaning up in the clubhouse, a pitcher by the name of Luke Hamlin tossed him a box. My dad opened it to find a brand new pair of Florsheim shoes. He had never owned a new pair of shoes in his entire life! Luke said something like he bought the wrong size, so as not to make him feel bad. But my dad knew the truth -- this ballplayer was doing something nice for a kid for no other reason but the kindness in his heart.

What brought this up now? Through the kindness of a friend, my father and I last week watched the Pirates play their first postseason game in 21 years ... from the comfort of a luxury suite, at least 10 lifetimes away from the boy with the taped-up shoes.

Despite my buying him a few pairs of shoes a year, Dad was still wearing a pair of 20-year-old shoes, yelling at me that they still have a few years of life left in them -- just like him!

He drank all of the coffee he wanted in the luxury suite -- for free! He was in his glory, with the icing on the cake being that his beloved Pirates beat the Reds. The joy in his eyes watching the crowd was something I will never forget.

Driving home after the game, his mouth was going a mile a minute. He told me it was the best night he's had in a long, long time. For that, this daughter is eternally grateful to Hurdle, McCutchen, Alvarez, Walker, Martin and the rest for giving my dad at least one more perfect day. Believe me, he was saying his Hail Marys in the ninth inning before the last out.No matter what happened afterward against the Cardinals, the Buccos made one old man very happy because they made it back to the postseason while he's, as he says, "still here!"

That clubhouse job with the Pirates, by the way, lasted only for that summer. On Christmas Day of 1942, his buddy Alan Stutsman was killed serving in World War II when his plane was shot down somewhere over Germany, putting an abrupt end to the Lawrenceville boys' "in" with the Pirates.

By the time the Pirates opened the 1943 season, Dad was somewhere in Utah getting ready to be shipped to Italy to fight in the war himself.

intelligencer

Eileen D'Amico of Shadyside, a dental office manager, can be reached at eileendamico@yahoo.com.This ends PG Portfolio's "Baseball Lore" series for 2013, but other reader essays relating to Western Pennsylvania are welcomed. 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. First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM


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