The Pirates Are Coming!
The kind from Pittsburgh, not Hannibal..
For many of my formative years, a Cardinal-Pirate series was something to be concerned about. Those were the days of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, Dave Parker and Richie Hebner. Jim Rooker was one of those soft tossing lefties that have baffled the Cardinals for at least 80 years now. The pitching was good and those hitters were as scary as the Cardinals MV-3 combination a few years ago. The late 80’s/early 90’s Buccos were pretty formidable too with Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla and the early Barry Bonds.
When I think of the Pirates, I still think of Roberto Clemente.
I was lucky enough to see Clemente play at an age where I could begin to appreciate his skills. We sat in the right field mezzanine at Busch Stadium II for a Pirates game in July of 1970. During the course of the game, a Cardinal batter pounded a ball into the right field corner directly below us. I saw Clemente disappear from view below the railing to scoop the ball up off the warning track. Very soon, the baseball came sailing out of the corner on a direct line to third base. The ball kept going and going and going and going until Richie Hebner caught it on a short hop directly over third base. At that time, that was the most impressive thing this nine year old right fielder had ever seen. That throw had to travel 350 feet and it was dead-on target. From that moment, Clemente was my favorite non-Cardinal. During a media tour of Busch Stadium during the 2002 Winter Warmup, I had the chance to stand where Clemente picked up that ball. As a 40+ year old softball player, that was still amazing to contemplate the idea that a human could accurately throw a baseball that far on a regular basis.
But, things have changed for the worse in western Pennsylvania. For Cardinal fans in their late 20s are younger, the mention of the Pirates doesn’t bring that vague sense of dread. Hard times have befalling this franchise. For the last decade or so, anyone who can play seems to wind up somewhere else.