If you are familiar with my baseball tastes, you know that I love the old time ballparks. Too many have met a grisly demise courtesy of the wrecking ball or implosion. I'm thankful that Wrigley Field and Fenway Park still exist.
Of the old timey parks, my favorites were, of course Yankee Stadium (the original and renovated stadium), Comiskey Park and Tiger Stadium. I was fortunate the have been in each of those parks.
However, the cookie cutter parks, that people seem to hate more and more each passing year, need love too.
Which brings me to Bob Busser's website. Bob has recently posted pictures of Three Rivers Stadium on www.ballparks.phanfare.com which is one of my favorite internet stops.
I have a lot of fond memories of Three Rivers Stadium since I spent four years in Pittsburgh going to college at Duquesne University. I'll share a couple of memories.
I remember one game sitting in the third row behind home plate for an Astros-Pirates game with Nolan Ryan pitching for Houston. The backstop was pretty close to home plate, unlike the Pirates previous home, Forbes Field where the backstop was a mile away from the dish. Ryan threw a gem and I could not believe how hard he was throwing. While his ball looked fast on TV, in person, up close, it was a different story. His curveball looked unhittable too. I can't remember how many strikeouts he had but it was a bunch.
Another great memory was a college football game. Duquesne was playing Carnegie-Mellon in the first game of the season. I was sitting in Steelers owner Art Rooney's box at the 50-yard line. For baseball, his box sat over the left field bullpen. I met Mr. Rooney when I was a freshman and since he also went to Duquesne, many years earlier, he took a liking to me and used to invite me to see baseball and football games with him. During the game a crazy rainstorm hit. People were getting soaked except for me, a couple of friends and Mr. Rooney, since we were protected from the elements. Right below us was a section of Duquesne students, many that I knew. After all, I was big man on campus! They were pointing up and pointing as us. Later, a few people asked me, "What the hell were you doing sitting with Art Rooney in his box?"
Which reminds me of another good Three Rivers Stadium story involving Mr. Rooney. In 1984, I was doing an internship with KQV radio in Pittsburgh. I would go to Pirates games and get sound bite for a sports talk show. This particular day, I went to the ballpark early because I wanted to see the United States Olympic baseball team play against a bunch of players from Pittsburgh. They were touring the country before the Olympics. The game started at 3 o'clock. I went to get my pass at the will call window around 2 o'clock. I banged on the steel, roll-up window. A lady lifted up the window and when I asked for my press credential, she said, in a salty tone, "You can't get your pass until 5." Then she close the window.
So, I banged on the window again. She opened it. "What?" "I need my pass now so I can get into the USA Olympic team game." She was angry and said, "I told you, you can get the pass at 5." She then slammed the metal window down.
I knocked again and again. No answer. Damn.
So, as a broke college student with no money to buy a ticket (a ticket to the Pirates game allowed you in for the USA-Pittsburgh team game) I figured I'd go visit Mr. Rooney to kill some time.
I wandered over to the other side of the stadium, entered the Steeler offices and met with Mary, Mr. Rooney's secretary. She said he wasn't busy and walked me to his office.
"Hey Rogan," Mr. Rooney said. "What are you up to?" He always called me Rogan.
I told him why I was there and that I couldn't get my media credential until 5.
"Let's take a walk," he said.
We were walking in the bowels of the stadium. Everybody who passed us said "Hi" to Mr. Rooney and he would introduce me to him. We made a quick stop in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse. It was there my eyes were scarred forever. Mr. Rooney wanted to see his friend Don Zimmer. We saw Zimmer and it was not a pleasant sight. Zim was wearing a ratty and stretched out grey Cubs t-shirt and that was it. A semi-naked Don Zimmer is not a pretty sight. But Mr. Rooney introduced us and Zimmer was fun to talk to for a few minutes. Then we continued our stroll through Three Rivers Stadium.
Eventually we ended up at an office. We went in and Mr. Rooney called out a woman by name, a name I forget. It was the woman who wouldn't give me my press credential.
The woman came over and suddenly was very nice. Mr Rooney said, "This is my friend Rogan. He has a press pass here I believe." The woman said, "Let me check Mr. Rooney." She walked over to the box where the credentials were, got my pass, came over and handed it to me. She wasn't quite as cranky as she was a half hour earlier.
When we walked out of the office I glanced back and the woman was "mean mugging" me. She wasn't happy.
The first Major League clubhouse I was in was the Pirates locker room at Three Rivers. It was intimidating going in there for the first time. My media career almost ended before it started when I walked in and the first person I saw was a naked Kent Tekulve sucking on a cigarette. I thought Don Zimmer was a nasty sight. He looked like a supermodel compared to Tekulve. Yikes.
Here is another good Three Rivers Story. The Pirates were very gracious in letting guys from Duquesne's baseball team hit in their indoor batting cage in the winter. We didn't have a cage on campus. One day I went down there with my roommate and we threw BP to each other. As we were going to leave I saw a canvas ballbag in a corner. I went over to the bag, figuring I would "borrow" a few baseballs. I reached into the bag and there were balls in there alright. Golf balls with Tony Pena's signature on them.
Being the idiots that we were, we took the bag out on the Three Rivers Stadium field.
It was set up in the football configuration but we went to where the home plate area was covered over by AstroTurf. We then started hitting Tony Pena's golf balls with our aluminum bats into the upper deck of the stadium. There never was any security there and we just had a blast launching home runs into the far reaches of the stadium. I can only imagine when the Steelers played their next game and fans sitting up there discovered a bunch of Tony Pena golf balls.
Speaking of security, in the summer of 84 when I was doing my internship, I would frequently ride my bicycle around Three Rivers Stadium. One day I noticed a gate open, again no security, and I rode my bike inside. I was riding up and down the ramps, all over the stadium. I wanted to ride on the field but figured my luck would run out sooner or later. But it was a lot of fun to ride around a big, empty stadium.
When they imploded the place I felt a tinge of sadness. I had some fun in that cookie cutter ballpark.
Looking at Bob's pictures on his website tonight brought back a lot of memories. It may have been a disrespected cookie cutter...but it was my cookie cutter stadium.