Pirates fans make annual pilgrimage

Pirates fans make annual pilgrimage

PITTSBURGH -- While the rest of the country observed Columbus Day on Monday, about 300 people gathered on the edge of the University of Pittsburgh campus to celebrate a different sort of holiday. And yes, "holiday" is certainly an appropriate word in this case.

You see, despite the 16-year playoff drought for the Pirates, there continues to be a postseason game played in Pittsburgh every year. This year that game fell on Monday because, of course, Monday was Oct. 13.

It was on Oct. 13, 1960, that the Pirates captured their first World Series championship since 1925.

It was on that date that Bill Mazeroski became an indelible member of franchise lore by becoming the first -- and still only -- player in baseball history to hit a game-winning homer in the final half-inning of the final frame of Game 7 of the World Series.

It was on that Thursday that that ball traveled over the outfield wall at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Pirates 10, Yankees 9. Championship won.

"It never gets old," said Stephen Newmeyer on Monday.

And that's why Newmeyer -- who was 7 years old and in Catholic school when a nun rushed into the classroom to inform him and his peers of Mazeroski's heroics that October afternoon -- and a few hundred others all met in Oakland, Pa., on Monday afternoon near what remains of the former center-field wall at Forbes Field.

Those who gathered near the wall, which stands nearly adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh's graduate school of business, did so to relive that game and relive that Mazeroski moment.

The pilgrimage of Pirates fans, most of whom remember where they were when Mazeroski's bat connected on a 1-0 pitch from Yankees reliever Ralph Terry, gathered to listen to the original radio broadcast of that game. The broadcast is timed so that the home run occurs as close to 3:36 p.m. ET as possible in order to emulate the day as precisely as possible.

The tradition started innocently enough in 1985, when Saul Finkelstein took his lunch and a radio to the wall on this date and listened to the rebroadcast. Word spread as the years passed, and Finkelstein slowly gained company.

Newmeyer estimated that he first took part in this annual ritual about 10 or 12 years ago. Joe Landolina, 50, has been coming since 1993. And George Skornickel has been setting aside the afternoon of Oct. 13 every year since 1990.

The three are part of a seven-member group that calls itself the Game 7 Gang and who are among the most faithful showing up at the brick wall every year. On Monday they were joined by about 300 others, which Herb Soltman, the unofficial leader of the group, estimated was the second-highest total ever. About 500 people listened at the wall in 2000, the 40th anniversary of the World Series win.

"By coming all these years, I can picture all the plays during the game, even though I wasn't there," Newmeyer said.

The Game 7 Gang, clad in white T-shirts fittingly imprinted with a newspaper photograph of the home run, were joined by people of all different walks on Monday.

There were members of that '60 Pirates team -- pitcher Bob Friend, shortstop Dick Groat and pitcher Elroy Face -- who sat in the front of the crowd. Former Pirates Nellie King and Frank Thomas, who was traded in 1958 for Don Hoak and Harvey Haddix -- who, ironically, picked up the win in Game 7 -- were also in attendance. Also making a visit was current Pirates president Frank Coonelly.

And then there were the first-timers.

Harry Franley of Normalville, Pa., made plans months ago to take the day off and drive the 45 miles from his home to join the crowd. He brought with him a book written by Jim Reisler that recounts the entire two-hour, 36-minute game pitch by pitch. And as radio broadcaster Chuck Thompson took the group through the game, Franley flipped each page of the book.

"It sure was a lot of fun," Franley said of the experience. "It's funny to be clapping for something that's already happened. I'm going to do it every year now."

The loudest ovation came after Thompson's call of Mazeroski's home run, but that wasn't the only reaction from the crowd on this unseasonably warm afternoon. When the national anthem was played, everyone stood, took off their caps and peered toward a small American flag that had been brought. All then joined in to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the middle of the seventh.

There were cheers when Hal Smith temporarily put the Pirates ahead, 9-7, with a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. And there were boos when the Yankees tied the game in the ninth.

"It's just amazing that people ignore all the traffic and the noise around here and put themselves back in the moment," second-time attendee Gordon Crocker, 76, said.

This year, Crocker brought along his wife, Linda, who vividly remembers listening to the game while a student at Allegheny College. Monday brought back those memories.

"I could close my eyes and imagine myself still sitting at my desk and listening," she said.

Attendance this year was higher than usual because of increased publicity, and the regulars, so to speak, expect similar crowds in the future as the grassroots event gains notoriety. They don't mind.

Members of the university's business school joined the crowd this year, handing out free hot dogs. A handful of memorabilia collectors also showed up with their treasures. And a new pennant that reads "Forbes Field" and has the Pittsburgh Baseball Club logo branded on it was donated and will be run up the flagpole every year.

And all of it was designed to honor a man, a team and a moment that, in this city, never gets old.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.