First Person: Looking for my father as Maz hits homer
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Last year, I ordered the DVD of the newly discovered full game seven of the 1960 World Series, the contest that pitched the scrappy Pittsburgh Pirates against the mighty New York Yankees. I watched the DVD eagerly -- the game and then the interviews. Joe Brown, general manager of the Pirates, described what happened in that series as "sheer guts against power." We all love a story and we love that one in particular -- it's the classic story.
But I ordered the DVD for other reasons as well. I hoped I would see my father in the stands.
This was, I learned soon enough, a foolish idea. The camera in those days was fixed on the batter's box and showed only a blur of black and white beyond and behind.
In my mind, the story of my father unfolded anyway; he was one of the blurs, possibly sitting up where the camera managed to follow a foul tip. I knew he had sponsored a busload of Pennsylvanians from George's Grill in Johnstown, our family bar, 65 miles from Pittsburgh. I picture the men sitting in two rows, where there was hardly enough room for their feet with all the coolers of sandwiches, whiskey and beer they took into Forbes Field with them. Those were different days, for sure, before anybody drank bottled water for a small fortune.
The men from George's Grill tip with drink, a happy working class drunkenness that is typical of steelworkers who let loose this way. On most days they work in the heat and danger of the mills on rotating shifts. They don't take family trips. We didn't.
Baseball is their vacation. It lifts them out of their drudgery. My mind's camera finds my father. He is bedizened by the excitement of the day and the job of handling the men and the many coolers -- his job as host. He notices what people need.
He is shy -- blinking away the camera eye. Men talk and he listens. And listens. He drinks whiskey, his form of vacation. Perhaps the pancreatic cancer started from all that sugar-alcohol.
I heard later about how my father and the rest of the men from George's Grill wandered the streets of Oakland outside Forbes Field after the game, amid showers of confetti, blaring horns, people dancing in the streets.
I didn't need the DVD to see my father. I could imagine him. I could piece together, from all else I knew of him, his expressions and his voice as it would have been that day.
Though I couldn't find my father among the images, what I did see was a history of our country in terms of sports fashion and the behavior that fashion dictates. Most of the men in the stands wore coats and ties. Many of the women wore pillbox hats. And dresses. And though the video doesn't show them from the knees down, almost certainly nylons and heels.
So when the announcer says there is pandemonium in the stands, the costumes dictate a new (or old) definition of pandemonium, something a little closer to what you get from the fans at a golf competition: applause, standing, clapping each other on the backs. There is no stripping off of shirts, no body paint, no chest beating.
It was a different time. And if baseball loves anything, it loves history recent and long past. Baseball always wants to refer back to the last inning, the last game, the last season, the last average, the last time X faced Y.
The players' names alone conjure the story of lives come and gone and changed. The exuberant run around the bases of the young and modest Bill Mazeroski is often juxtaposed in contemporary videos with interviews of the still modest, rotund older man. We can still see him. But there's Roberto Clemente, eager and gangly and almost teenagerish in motion. He died too young. He will be young forever. And the other names conjure history -- our own as well as the players'.
Mazeroski says he never thought to win the game. He just wanted to get on base and, if anything, hurry the team to a 10th inning with a decent set of batters up. Did his lack of ego help him relax, make him an instrument for the hopes in the stands?
Mel Allen on NBC TV: "There's a drive into deep left field, look out now ... that ball is going, going, gone! And the World Series is over! Mazeroski ... hits it over the left field fence, and the Pirates win it 10-9 and win the World Series!"
Sometime past first base, Mazeroski realized what he had done and began leaping as he rounded the bases, winding his arm as if to power himself. The other players ran out to accompany him home.
Shakespeare could write that kind of joy, that fifth act miracle. Just ... plain joy.
First Published October 20, 2012 12:00 am