8/14/20 – All work and some play
I love the expression, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I used it once on my dad when I brought home an 8thgrade report card with straight “D’s.” I kind of went girl crazy and spent all my time on the phone instead of studying. When I recited the “all-work-no-play” expression he answered back, “Yeah, but all play and no work makes Jack a dumb ass!”
We were both right.
Leaving Vermont this morning we took a couple of days off from riding to visit Niagara Falls and then Pittsburg. As we crossed the Niagara River, I was greatly surprised not only at how wide it is but also how forcefully it flows. As the River approaches the Falls it picks up speed and flies several feet out into the open air before succumbing to gravity pulling from 167 feet below. More than 600,000 gallons goes over the falls every second, the energy of several billion kilowatt-hours per day. It’s quite a sight. I was impressed with the forces of nature on display. I was also impressed with how nice the park was. We went to all four viewpoints at the edge of the Falls. We weren’t tempted to join those raincoat-clad visitors at the bottom who wanted to be closer to the action. They had to be soaked. The Columbia River back home is even mightier (volume plus flow rate) than the Niagara. After stair-stepping down a series of dams the Columbia finally flows quietly to the sea after providing enough electricity to power eight cities the size of Seattle.
Whereas Niagara was Judy’s bucket list item, the Roberto Clemente Museum in Pittsburg was mine. The next day I set out on my own driving two hours from Lake Erie down to the Steel City. I arrived a full hour before the museum opened, so I spent some time in the popular Strip District nearby, a place a bit like Pike’s Market in Seattle. Lots of restaurants, bars, and shops selling Steelers jerseys. This would be a great place to watch a game at one of the many sports bars. Pittsburg has the feel of a tough city, a working city, a strong city. I saw a freight train on elevated tracks going right through the tall buildings in downtown. A beautiful Catholic church built for the Polish community was locked but a sign in the window announced confessions would be heard in the parking lot later that afternoon. What a cool idea in the era of Covid. I planned to come back. A good confession always cleanses the soul like nothing else. The priests get mad at me when I open with, “Bless me father I have sinned, it’s been 15 years since my last confession.” I got in a whispered argument with a priest in Chicago two confessions ago back in 1980. He didn’t like that I, a baptized and confirmed Catholic, was going to a Protestant church. I told him it didn’t matter. “Oh, but it does,” said he. We agreed to disagree. The priest at St. Peter’s in Rome, where I had my last confession, was much more understanding.
At 10 a.m., right when the Clemente Museum opened, I was the first visitor through the door. A nice middle-aged gentlemen showed me around. He knew everything about Roberto, the 1960 World Series, and the 1971 Series where Roberto was MVP. We chatted for most of the 90 minutes I was there. I told him how when I was a boy, I read the sports page every day during baseball season to see how many hits Roberto got. Roberto had it all, he could hit anything his bat could reach and often hit balls way outside the strike zone. He could surprise and throw runners rounding first base with a mighty throw from deep right field to first. If you were a base runner and Roberto had the ball in his hand, you’d better stay close to the bag. He was so gifted, and he played with unique passion. “I was born to play baseball,” he said in his Puerto Rican accent. Original letter on the wall between him and Branch Rickey, who recruited him to the Pirates, showed Clemente was confident in his ability, but never arrogant. Rickey offered him $7,000. Roberto wanted ten. They agreed somewhere in the middle. If Clemente were playing today, he’d be making $25 million a year. After the monumental and unforgettable 1960 Series victory over the Yankees, while his teammates celebrated in the locker room, Roberto went outside to be with the fans. He loved them. They loved him. In a city known for sports, of all the great players in all the professional sports, the statue of Roberto identifies him simply as “The Great One.” He is beloved like no other.
In 1972, when he became the 11thplayer in baseball history to get 3,000 hits, a stand-up double, he stood on second base, and as the roaring ovation went on and on, he quietly removed his hat and took a humble bow. The was the last game of the season. He would never come to bat again. He died three months later in a plane crash carrying supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. What a great man. What a great human being!
There’s another reason I wanted to come to Pittsburg. I spent a few of my early years here. My first day of school was at the Immaculate Conception in nearby Irwin, PA. My dad, a union electrician, worked much of his career in this city. Before I could get to some of the other places I wanted to visit around Pittsburg, I had to run back up to Erie where we were camping. I never made it to confession. The priest is really going to be mad when I tell him it’s been 20 years!