It was the summer of '73. The season after the great Roberto Clemente died on that plane. The city was still reeling.
I never got over the shock of Roberto's death, and I didn't go to a game that year until mid-July, when the Pirates were hosting the Padres for a twilight doubleheader. I was 11 years old and had saved enough dimes delivering the Post-Gazette to cover the cost of tickets for me and my best buddy, Jimmy Malone.
Jimmy was a little older and savvier than I was, but he didn't have my independence. He was an only child being raised by his grandparents, while I was a middle child among six siblings.
So it was a big deal in the Malone household that we two boys were going to a Pirates game by ourselves. "How are yinz getting there?" his grandmother asked.
"We're taking the streetcar."
"Do you even know where Three Rivers Stadium is?"
"It's by the water."
"How yinz getting home?"
"I told you! We're taking the streetcar!"
"I swear if you two get into any trouble, Pap will have your hides!"
We took the 42/38 streetcar from Dormont into town. As soon as we saw the big buildings we got off, under the Kaufmann's clock.
"Hey, mister, how you get to the stadium?" we asked someone, which became a familiar refrain until we crossed the Sixth Street Bridge and headed left toward Three Rivers, where we eventually made our way up to the nose-bleed seats. The good thing was we were in the first row of the upper deck. We could see everything, even if it seemed a light year away.
We had enough money for a hot dog each while splitting a Coke. The first game turned into a pitcher's duel, with Nellie Briles pitching a gem. The Pirates won, 3-1.
Out of boredom, we ripped up scorecards to make confetti, using it to fill empty popcorn buckets we found. We amassed a colossal collection of discarded paper, any paper -- newspapers, hot dog wrappers, Milk Duds boxes, whatever could be ripped and put into our buckets.
The second game was a homer-filled barn burner, and the whole time we were filling our buckets until we had 15 stuffed full of garbage -- er, I mean, confetti. The Pirates swept the doubleheader, winning the second game, 13-7.
It was time to celebrate. We took our buckets of confetti and littered the air with an endless supply of torn paper all over the denizens of the lower deck. It was stupendous! We heard later that Bob Prince interrupted his post-game show to marvel, "You should see all the confetti, folks! It's Christmas in July."
We wandered down to the dugout area afterward, hoping to score an autograph, but the players had all fled into the locker room. We got a ball off a bat boy by convincing him that one of us was dying. "We gotta get at least one autograph!" Jimmy declared.
Out in the Pirates parking lot, we and about 15 other diehards stood at the gate begging for autographs from the Cadillacs and Mercedes filing by. Finally, a Volkswagen beetle stopped. The driver rolled down his window and grabbed our ball to scribble something and toss it back. After 10 minutes of deciphering, we realized that Vic Davalillo had signed our ball. Woohoo!
Just about then we realized it was very late. We headed back Downtown in the dead of night to the streetcar stop. "Boy, there ain't nobody around," I said. After a long wait, we saw a bum nearby and asked, "Hey mister, you know where we can catch a streetcar?"
"Streetcar? Streetcars stop at 11. It's like 12:30."
Just then the admonition from Jimmy's grandmother rang in my ears: "Pap will have your hides!"
I had to cajole Jimmy to call his house. His pap answered, "You're where?!"
"We're stuck Downtown and there are no more streetcars."
"I gotta work in the morning!" his pap responded, before adding, "OK, meet me under Kaufmann's clock!"
After awhile, Pap pulled up. After some initial grumbling, he lightened up. We showed him our Vic Davalillo ball and told him about the games. He started telling us stories of Pie Traynor and Ralph Kiner.
It was a ride home that I'll never forget. But, boy, was I glad I didn't have to go inside with Jimmy to face his grandmom!
Daniel Rush of Peoria, Ariz., an IT technician who grew up in Dormont, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgThe PG Portfolio welcomes "Baseball Lore" submissions and 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.