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Former Pirates closer continues to make impact

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 12:16 a.m.

A few days ago, as they flew home from the Willie Stargell Foundation's annual golf tournament in North Carolina, Kent Tekulve found himself seated next to former Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy. It wasn't long before Tekulve started to reminisce about his playing days.

Tekulve first came to Pittsburgh in 1969 for a tryout at Forbes Field, then returned as a big leaguer in 1974. He feels privileged to have pitched for the Pirates for much of the 1970s, when Pittsburgh was the center of the sports universe.

“It was a special time,” Tekulve said. “When the Steelers won the Super Bowl, then we won the World Series and they won another Super Bowl ... it was one of the best things that happened to this area.”

Off the field, things weren't as great. Pittsburgh was enduring a painful metamorphosis away from its steel town roots.

“When we went through the whole “City of Champions” thing, it was the lowest point in that transition,” Tekulve said. “A lot of families that were hurting. The Pirates and the Steelers gave people something to be proud of. It makes you feel good to have been part of that.”

After he retired as a player, Tekulve returned to Pittsburgh and has lived here ever since. He remains active in local charities and with the ballclub as a broadcaster and spring training instructor.

“I feel I've built a special relationship with the people of Pittsburgh over the years,” Tekulve said. “It made all the sense in the world that I should be here for as long as I'm living.”

Saturday, Tekulve will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the seventh annual Pittsburgh Rotary/Chuck Tanner Awards Banquet.

Also at the event, Jim Leyland will present Pirates manager Clint Hurdle with the Chuck Tanner Manager of the Year Award. Pirates owner Bob Nutting will receive the Chuck Tanner Memorial Award for promoting baseball in Pittsburgh.

Other winners include longtime Pirates employee Sally O'Leary (Distinguished Women in Baseball Award) and Seton Hill University's Marc Marizzaldi (Collegiate Manager of the Year).

What goes into a lifetime achievement award? Tekulve's resumé is lengthy.

Tekulve earned a spot in Pirates lore by racking up 158 saves, second most in franchise history. And there's the indelible image of Tekulve jumping into catcher Steve Nicosia's arms after getting the final out to win the 1979 World Series.

“On the field, that's the pinnacle,” Tekulve said. “But, for me, I'm thinking more of off-the-field type of things, all the stuff I've done over the years. Hopefully, I'll leave western Pennsylvania a little bit better than it was when I found it. I will never be able to give back as much as I've gotten from here, that's for sure.”

For nearly 30 years, Tekulve was an honorary chairman of the Myasthenia Gravis Association of Western Pennsylvania. And recently he has begun working with the March of Dimes.

Tekulve also has taken the reins of the Pirates alumni group, which does a lot of events with Pirates Charities.

“We try to keep all our alumni guys involved in the city,” Tekulve said. “It's a nice way for us to stay connected to the community. You have that feeling that you're still contributing to something. You can't do it on the field anymore — you can't save any more games for the Pirates — but you can still go out and make a difference in somebody's life. That's important.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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