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Forbes Field's 100 years in the making

| Friday, June 26, 2009

Scribbled in red ink inside the June 30 block of Barney Dreyfuss' little black 1909 day planner are the words "Chicago here," noting the Pirates' second game of a five-game home series against the Cubs.

Under that and the day's starters, the Pirates' owner wrote a footnote in faded black ink: "First game at Forbes Field."

A hundred years later, the footnote is the headline. The Heinz History Center's new exhibit, "Forbes Field: A Century of Memories," opens Saturday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the storied park's inception.

From the park's opening day in 1909 to its eventual demolition in 1970, the exhibit, a part of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum inside the History Center in the Strip District, showcases rare artifacts from baseball to boxing that span Forbes Field's 62 years.

"What we've tried to do is bring together some never-before-seen pieces, as well as some pieces the average fan can relate to," sports museum director Anne Madarasz said. "So you'll really see Pirates baseball history but also history of a place that was about more than baseball."

But baseball, during an era when the Pirates were perennial contenders, is certainly the exhibit's marquee attraction.

Inside a Plexiglas case in the center of the exhibit is Dreyfuss' planner from 1909, the year the Pirates won their first World Series, along with tickets from the first Pirates game at Forbes Field and exclusive photos taken during the park's construction.

Artifacts from the park include a pair of wooden seats, several signs, and the pitching rubber from which Ralph Terry delivered the pitch that Bill Mazeroski drove over the outfield wall to win the 1960 World Series.

"The last time anyone stood on that was Oct. 13, 1960, because the groundskeeper dug it out of the mound and carefully preserved it," said History Center president and CEO Andrew Masich. "It's tangible reminder of a moment in time, a special moment."

There are many personal items on display, too, most of which are on loan from private lenders. Paul Waner's black shoes sit among old tickets that range from 50 cents to $6.60. A Roberto Clemente game-used bat from 1966 is prominently displayed, as will be an autographed Babe Ruth baseball from the day he hit three home runs at Forbes Field in 1935.

Also showcased is a Homestead Grays uniform once worn by Euthumn Napier, who backed up Josh Gibson, which Madarasz said is one of only two known existing game-worn Grays uniforms.

"We're kind of rebuilding Forbes Field a piece at a time," Madarasz said.

And, like Madarasz mentioned, the exhibit commemorates events beyond baseball.

Showcased are the black boxing trunks worn by Ezzard Charles, who "Jersey" Joe Walcott knocked out in a 1951 heavyweight title bout at Forbes Field, as are programs from Pitt and Steelers football games and fliers from other social events.

"We really want to talk about a particular place and what it represented to people," Madarasz said. "That's really why I think Forbes Field lives on. There were many great moments that happened within that stadium that people shared together."

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Forbes Field

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