A half-century later, it's still the Pirates' day
By Bob Cohn
Published: Thursday, October 14, 2010
Two men, each named Marty Brownsey, father and son, got out of their car shortly after 11:30 a.m. Wednesday after driving four hours from Buffalo. The younger Marty, 41, held a throwback Cleveland Indians cap. The older Marty, 69, clutched a box of donuts. "We're on a baseball pilgrimage today," the younger Marty said.
Soon they reached their destination, the intersection of Roberto Clemente and Schenley Drives on the Pitt campus in Oakland, the site of old Forbes Field, where a half-century ago to the day Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates won Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, beating the New York Yankees, 10-9.
The Brownseys are not really Pirates fans, but they came with a purpose nevertheless. "We dislike the Yankees," older Marty explained. Said younger Marty: "We're showing our appreciation to Pittsburgh for what they did 50 years ago."
So did about a thousand others on a sunny, warm fall afternoon not unlike the one they came to remember.
Each year since 1985, what became known as the Game 7 Club has gathered in the shadow of the remaining portion of Forbes Field's outfield wall to celebrate the Pirates' victory and hear a recorded broadcast of the game. Each year, Mazeroski comes through, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with the most famous home run in World Series history.
Folks used to gather around a boom box. Now there are big speakers and attendance has swelled. Still, it was never like this. Streets were blocked off and fans arrived early with their folding chairs. 'This is really extraordinary," said Marilyn Holt, a librarian at the nearby Carnegie main branch and a Game 7 Club veteran, who set up her chair at 9 a.m.
They came wearing hats and Pirates garb of every vintage and variety, and carried with them old baseball cards and programs, framed photographs and yellowed newspapers. They filled the street that used to be center field before the ballpark was abandoned in 1970 and torn down two years later to make way for university buildings.
The overflow peeked through trees and watched from the lawn across the street. Fans clamored for autographs from several of the 1960 Pirates (Maz, Dick Groat, Bob Friend, Elroy Face, Vernon Law, etc.) who showed up. Some succeeded before security people cleared the area. They brought babies and dogs, at least one of which wore a T-shirt.
Almost everyone, it seemed, had a story. There was Don Gilson, 68, who used to live in Townville before moving to Ohio. While in the Army during basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., he said, a kindly officer ordered a cease-fire during maneuvers and piped in the game because so many soldiers were from Pennsylvania.
"I was lying on my belly in the sand when Maz hit the homer," Gilson said.
John White, 62, traveled from Case Grande, Ariz., just to be here. He admitted he was not a big Pirates fan, but he remembers Game 7 when he and a buddy ditched school to watch the game.
"It's one of my greatest memories I had in baseball," he said. "I soon realized it was one of the greatest games ever."
When they returned to school, White said he and his pal received "swats" from the principal. These were, of course, the good old days of corporal punishment.
"It was worth it," he said.
Several actually attended Game 7 and had the tickets stubs to prove it.
Stephanie Birkemeyer, 72, from Oakmont, said she took the 64-A trolley from North Braddock, where she lived at the time. According to her ticket, she sat in section 21, Row F, seat 16 (along the third-base line) in the $7.70 reserved seats.
"That's my greatest moment in sports," she said.
Another big moment for Birkmeyer came a few years earlier, when she joined a throng of onlookers camped outside the Sacred Heart Church where Mazeroski married a local girl, a team secretary named Milene Nicholson. It was the social event of 1958 in that part of the world.
"We had a celebrity in the Braddock area," Birkmeyer said.
Meanwhile, Mazeroski, who was honored with a large, granite sidewalk plaque from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, marveled at all the attention.
"It's fantastic," he said. "Who would ever think we'd be out here celebrating something that happened 50 years ago. It's amazing that people have the memory and the thought about that. It's just overwhelming. I can't understand it."
"This exceeded all expectations," said Game 7 Gang leader Herb Soltman, who was part of the mob that swarmed Mazeroski at home plate. "The crowd was great, the weather was great. And we won again."
On Oct. 13, they always do.
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