“Ballpark Figures” by Goob

I’m in Virginia and then on to the southern part of North Carolina for the annual family vacation, and I spent a good portion of the drive just trying to wrap my brain around the Freeh report. But that’s neither here nor there and I don’t honestly even know what that phrase means. 

I’ve invited some of Pittsburgh’s best to guest post while I’m away and here’s Goob. You remember him from the excellent “Shortcuts” post he wrote when I was in Mexico earlier this year and here he is talking about something we can all agree on these days … baseball. But he’s going to talk to you about baseball in a way that’s going to just make you drink in words like you’re dying of thirst.


I will cheerfully admit that I am one of those people who has a deep affection for our baseball stadium. It’s a beautiful ballpark. I know that’s an old saw; the aesthetics of the park have been a hollow consolation for a while now, a refrain that has been taken to find weight and worth in a place that has only ever hosted a quiet, desperate futility. I think that people have thought I say such things because there was nothing else to say to the positive: nothing of any use happens down on that field, they might claim, so I am just clinging to the architecture, trying to salvage something of value from my ticket stub, trying to save some face.

That could be. But: I like the park. The park shows me wonders, from time to time.

There was that day several summers ago, hot and thick. The skyline was muted by the heavy air, the chiseled edges of the buildings softened in the haze. We sat up in the tall seats, the upper deck, the places they aim for when they shoot hotdogs from air cannons. The air was no less thick up there, and we had an excellent view of dark clouds, crawling toward us out of the west. When those clouds finally moved up over the West End, they dropped a mighty rain which slid like a curtain between us and the city, hiding it, backstage, until it could finish its costume change and be in place for the second act. The rain moved on, the city emerged, slick and clean and gleaming. The air became cool up there in the seats for a while.

On the field, they played on.

Several other summers ago, I treated myself to a mid-week afternoon game, getting a good seat on the Third Base line. It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny and cool, with good chatter in the stands even though so few seats were full. At one point, someone slapped a popup high into the blue, coming our way, and I noticed a remarkable thing: the ball stopped moving, and hovered there, near the sun, all of us staring up at it. Then I noticed that, although it wasn’t moving, it was getting bigger. I am not a professional baseball player, and I did not bring a glove, and quite soon after that I got hit in the shoulder with a baseball.

It bounced away and skittered under seats. In front of me, a fellow with a local jersey and a black and gold ball cap leaned down in his seat and picked up the ball from between his shoes. He looked at it, grinned at his buddy next to him, and then leaned across the aisle to put it carefully into the small hands of a little girl, visiting the park with her softball team. Her eyes never left that ball in her hands, even when she carefully said, “Thank you.”

On the field, they played on.

From time to time, they have Turn Back the Clock games at the park. The play takes on an air of historical enactment, the players sporting vintage uniforms, the uniforms sometimes difficult to look at. My absolute favorite of these was some years since, when they shuffled the calendar all they way back to before the war. They warned us over the PA system before the game that they were making some changes to recreate the experience of a game from that era. The players would be wearing uniforms of that era, with sloped caps and wide shirts. There would be no pierogi race, they said, no launching of hot dogs or t-shirts. The only thing coming over the PA would be the batter’s name as they stepped up to the plate. The only music would come from the organ. The only thing on the score board would be the score. The players took the field, and the sounds of the game became so much stronger: the soft thud of a ball buried in the catcher’s mitt, the murmurs and gasps of the crowd, the crack of the bat. The game became an artful space of pleasant dignity, and they played on.

(If I can say anything to the management, it would be this: more of those, please.)

So: go to the ball park, and look around. Look up into the spiderwork of girders. Peek into the corners, and stroll along the concourse. The park, the game, the city, they will all seem fine, and there will be spaces where you go to stand or sit where any or all of them will seem special. Go to take in an afternoon of summer sun, dodge a pop fly, let your day play out the way the game does. Keep your eyes open. See what happens. It’s a wonderful place for that, even when they are not winning.

And they are winning.


  1. bucdaddy
    July 12, 2012 10:10 pm

    And you didn’t even mention girls in shorts and tank tops and Pirates caps.

    And Manny at the barbecue stand.

    And the good beer.

    And the walk across the bridge, or the ride to the park on a riverboat.

    Ahhhhhhhh …

    I make no apologies, Stillerz Nation: You may have the championship team, but cold beer and warm sunshine >>>>>>>>>>> parkas and whiskey.

  2. Caroline
    July 12, 2012 11:18 pm

    Don’t do this to me when I’m in Minnesota and I can’t go to every game I want to (aka all of them).

    That last description–I was at a game like that (was it the Sunday after the Pens won the Stanley Cup?) and we were in the bleachers and could barely see the plays. I kept score and it kept us all into it. Who needs a scoreboard to tell you what the players did last at bat, or who is at plate now?

  3. BeckyS
    July 13, 2012 6:24 am

    Excellent post! How true it is that we have become wrapped up in the “entertainment” sideshows and we have lost the true meaning of a baseball game. I hope everyone takes the time to stop, look, and listen. I hope that there are more old time games in our future where the baseball game is once again the star. Congrats on a super season Buccos, may the talents of all involved be truly appreciated!

  4. Suzie-Q
    July 13, 2012 7:22 am

    Love the throw back game description…….nothing like the sounds of a good baseball game in a great stadium.

  5. Michael
    July 13, 2012 8:35 am

    “People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

  6. Jack
    July 13, 2012 9:41 am

    There was a throwback game, oh, 7-8 years ago when the Red Sox came to town. I saw baseball as my grandparents saw it. A wonderful experience. OK, they could have somehow worked the pirogi race in, but that aside, I loved the experience.

    Ginny, anytime you want to invite Goob as a guest is fine with me. The man can really write.

  7. red pen mama
    July 13, 2012 10:34 am

    It’s so nice to read a story about adults acting nicely at a ball game (the gentleman giving the baseball to the little girl) instead of sports fans behaving badly. Thanks, Goob. Lovely, evocative writing. Makes me want to go see another game!

  8. Bluetail
    July 13, 2012 3:40 pm


    Whatever else you do in your ‘real’ life, I hope it’s secondary to your writing.

  9. Christina
    July 13, 2012 4:06 pm

    I love this! What a great writing and it makes me miss Pittsburgh even more. I walked the bridge on the homeopener day. We were looking into PNC Park when the cheering got loud for the very first pitch.

    I hope the Pirates are still playing when I will be back in October.

  10. bluegold08
    July 13, 2012 11:01 pm


  11. cheyrl
    July 15, 2012 2:40 pm

    Many, many years ago each summer I would spend a week with my grandparents in Natrona Heights. She scared me – loved my grandfather. Nights, after dinner, he would sit on the back porch in the dark and listen to the Pirates games on the radio. I used to snuggle up to him and listen to the game. Once I asked him why he listened on the radio instead of watching it on TV and he told me he could see it better than way……now I understand. Go Pirates – he’s up there in heaven rooting you on!