Love is a baseball field for these Opening Day superfans
Bob Kominski struggles to find the right words.
"He never could even explain it to me," says his wife of 35 years, Janice Jastrzebski.
But standing in a room of their Mt. Lebanon condo, packed floor to ceiling with baseball memorabilia, he fights off tears and tries: "Everyone chooses to invest their time in something," he says.
For some, it's their job, kids or families.
For Bob and Janice, it's baseball, he says, now holding an old score book in which he documented every pitch of Game 3 of the 1979 World Series.
"This is what I believe in," he says. "The ballpark is my chapel."
Last week marked the 40th consecutive year that Bob and Janice attended Major League Baseball's Opening Day together.
Some years, it's just one game. Other years — including this year — it's three.
First, they were in Atlanta to see the Braves' new ballpark, SunTrust Park. Bob has been to every current stadium, Janice all but one. Then, it was off to Baltimore, to see Bob's hometown team, the Orioles, open their season. Finally, it was back to Pittsburgh, where Janice grew up and where they met and fell in love (at a ballpark, of course) all those decades ago.
When they lived in Madison, Wis., they went to Milwaukee or Chicago for the season's first pitch. When they lived in Baltimore and Washington, they went to games there and in Pittsburgh.
"It doesn't feel right to not be at a game on Opening Day," Janice says. "Even if it's not our home team every year."
It started in 1977.
They met in the fall of the previous year, after the baseball season had ended. She worked at the University of Pittsburgh and he was a grad student. When spring of '77 came, they went to Opening Day at the old Three Rivers Stadium. They've been together ever since.
In 1979, they went to five games in the seven-game World Series between his Orioles and her Pirates. He wore orange and black, she wore black and gold and, as Bob tells it, when the Pirates won Game 7 in Baltimore, Janice was the only person on the trolley wearing a Pirates hat.
There was that one opener at Three Rivers when a snow squall moved in. Bob almost caught a foul ball, Janice recalls, "but you couldn't see the ball for the snow."
They don't remember who won that night.
Only that they were there, together.
Now both retired, they split their time between Pittsburgh and Sarasota, Fla., where — like the players on the field — they prepare for the real season by taking in dozens of Grapefruit League exhibition games. They collect autographs and souvenir cups and baseballs. They fill page after page of Bob's homemade scoring sheet binders.
Together, they go to more than 100 games a year.
It's just hard for Bob to explain why.
"Somewhere in here," Bob says in that room of memories, "is a book about how baseball is like life. And it is. Each year, we start anew. It's a long season. It's wearing. There's going to be amazing moments, there's going to be boring moments. And then, at the end of the year, the season is over and it's time to move on."
Until Opening Day rolls around again.
Then it all starts again: The highs and the lows, the tedium and the thrills.
Even in cities like Pittsburgh this year, where the team is coming off a subpar season and fans grumble over ownership's inability to remedy obvious flaws, there's a sense of optimism that infects everyone, even the deeply jaded, for at least one day
"Everybody's got faith and hope that it will turn out well," Bob says. "Maybe it will, maybe it won't, and we'll see how it transpires. There's going to be really great days at the ball park, there's going to be bad days, and there's going to be things that you will never see again."
And that's the point, he says:
"Something might happen. It's worth it to me to be there."
Chris Togneri is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or email@example.com.