By John Truman
Roberto Clemente statue
at PNC Park.
While standing outside of PNC Park one summer, at the Roberto Clemente Statue, I was thinking about all the great plays I witnessed. A lady walked up to the statue pushing a gentleman in a wheelchair. I said to her “Good Afternoon, beautiful day, isn’t it?” She said “Yes it is.” My brother and I try to get my Dad to a few games every year. This is always our first stop at Roberto’s statue.
I told the lady I can’t walk past the statue either. Roberto was my hero. For some reason I asked the lady how many brothers she had. She said five. I said, “I guess you had your own homeland security and didn’t even know it. A little chuckle came out of her father. A little complaint came from her saying she wasn’t allowed to date in a car until after she graduated from high school. I told her that’s why they produced the television show “Father Knows Best.”
I asked her, “You probably ended up with a good husband didn’t you?” She looked at me and said “Yes, I did.” I said that is what a father’s love for his daughter is all about.
For some reason this ladies father was intriguing to me. I knelt down on one knee beside him and asked “Was Roberto the best you ever saw play the game?” The man looked at me and winked.
I told him about lying in my room at night listening to the end of a 7:05 start in Pittsburgh or a west coast game on my RCA transistor radio hoping the battery would last. He told me about his Motorola radio and how he took it everywhere he went. He would catch an inning on his break when hanging steel in Pittsburgh.
I mentioned about the day I came to Three Rivers Stadium and Roberto made that great play from deep in the right field corner. I didn’t have my radio that day and missed Bob Prince calling the play. He has his transistor that day and remembered it well. What came next from this man was pretty impressive. He said, “Line short, right field line. We’ve got a bug on the rug. Roberto’s after it. It is dead in the corner. Runners rounding second, Roberto’s up with it and here’s the throw.” The man paused and then said, “We had him by a mile.”
The impersonation of Bob Prince stopped everyone there in their tracks. One man said he remembered the pause that day. Another man said that about 36,000 people that day paused in disbelief that Roberto threw a strike to third base.
I looked up at this man’s daughter and she was crying. I stood up and said, “I didn’t mean to upset you. You should take your father up to the press box and tell them to move over, the Gunners back in town. I was going to comfort and console her but you have to watch what you say and do today. They are shooting about 10 or 12 a night in Pittsburgh. She didn’t say if her five brothers were meeting them at the game. It was just too nice a day to get shot or beat up.
The lady looked at me and said, “Thank You.” Dad hasn’t talked this much in a year. All of his co-workers and buddies are all gone now. The Motorola radio still sits on his dresser. When Bob Prince came out with saying “We’ve got a bug on the rug, I was only three years old. My dad would say that phrase often and I thought there was a bug on the rug! So I would jump up on our couch and look for the bug on our rug.
The father then reached back and touched his daughter’s hand. I knew it was time to go. I extended my hand to him and said, “It has been a pleasure to meet you sir.” I told him I had heard Steve Blass speak at a banquet one night about Roberto. He said that the ocean was the only graveyard big enough to put a man like Roberto Clemente in. He was bigger than life to so many.
As they headed toward the stadium entrance they stopped and the father leaned over the arm of his wheelchair and said, “Steve Blass was right. Roberto was bigger than life.”
We live in a troubled world but there are still some good people out there. I had just met two of them….. An ironworker and his daughter from the steel city. Let’s play ball!