Monday, April 9 – Pops
Elton John, “Reg Strikes Back”
Bryan Adams, “So Far So Good”
t couldn’t have been
any more ironic.
The day the Pirates officially move into their new ballpark, Willie
Stargell, the heart and soul of the Bucs for a long time, passes away.
He hadn’t been doing very well – he’d been dealing with a kidney problem
for a while, and for the last few years had been too weak to get out much.
He was only 61 years old.
Stargell was in the last years of his playing career when I attended
my first ballgame (at the now defunct Three Rivers Stadium). But
I can still remember Willie – it was hard to forget him. He was a
big guy, or at least he was in the back half of his playing days.
But standing at the plate, he looked absolutely huge. Standing
there, staring down the pitcher, he’d go through three or four rhythmic
warm-up swings, and then twirl his bat in a small circle over his head
– you could just see him storing potential energy in the thing, like a
bear trap ready to recoil at the slightest touch.
I guess you could say that I idolized him. Whenever I played
ball, I liked to go through those same swings and twirls as Willie.
It certainly didn’t help my hitting, but man, did I look stylish up at
I can’t think of any present-day baseball players who had the grace,
and commanded the respect, that Willie Stargell did. Maybe Cal Ripken
and Tony Gwynn are similar, but even they pale in comparison. As
grandfathers nowadays tell their grandchildren about Mays, and DiMaggio,
and Aaron, and – around here – Clemente, someday I’ll get to tell my grandchildren
that I got to see Willie Stargell play.