A Blass From the Past

I was fourteen years old the first time I saw Steve Blass pitch. He was a young, strapping ballplayer from New England. As was often the case, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in dire need of good pitching. They saw Blass as a part of their hope for the future.

I used to love watching him perform on the mound. He was highly emotional, and he was intense as he was talented. He had a pitch he called a slop drop. I guess it was a curveball, but it was a slow tantalizing breaking pitch that seemed to drop off a table. It used to drive hitters crazy when it was working well.

The Windup

The thing I remember most, however, was his windup. These days, pitchers don’t have much of one. It seems they reserve all their energy for the follow-through. Not Blass. He had an old-fashioned, full windup that was a thing of beauty. It was like watching a ballet dancer at times. The most memorable thing about it was the way he would bounce his right foot two or three times in the middle of his motion as he was rocking back in preparation to deliver the pitch.

At the height of his playing days with the Buccos, he led the pitching staff to a World Series Championship against the Baltimore Orioles. It was 1971, and I was twenty-one years old. My beloved Corsairs hadn’t been back to the Series since I was ten. It was magical.

Blass pitched two superb, complete games against the daunting Birds. They had big hitters like Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. I once ran into Boog (literally) at Camden Yards after he had retired. I was walking through the crowds by the concession stands and accidentally ran into this mountain of a man. My nose came to the middle of his chest. When I looked up to apologize, I realized it was Boog Powell. I also realized I would never want to face off with him—even from 60 feet away on a pitching mound.

The Slop Drop

Powell went 0 for 8 against Blass in that series with several strikeouts as I recall. What I remember most is Powell’s reaction after one of those strikeouts. He just couldn’t hit the Blass slop drop. After a third strike swing and miss, he broke the bat across his knee as he walked away from the plate. It was a sight to behold.

After sixty years with the Pirate organization, Steve Blass is hanging up the microphone. As an announcer, he’s known for his quick wit and his wealth of baseball knowledge and lore. I’ve never met him personally, but he seems like a guy I would love to get to know.

His retirement is nostalgic for an old fan like me, and it’s good to see a modern-day city give one of its heroes an exultant sendoff. It was hard to hold back the tears as I watched his final TV broadcast. Thanks, Steve. You’ve been a joy!

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Woodstock (and Other Near Misses)

From what I’ve heard, this weekend is the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock music festival. It was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” I was nineteen years old when that granddaddy of all music festivals took place.

The Brown Acid

The previous spring, an acquaintance at college mentioned to me he was planning on attending. That’s about all I ever heard about it and promptly forgot it entirely. Besides that, I had a summer job, and making money was a tad more important at the time. It was only after the fact that I realized what I had missed. Oh well… In those days, I was much more of a follower than a leader and may well have taken the, now infamous, brown acid.

That event took place during the Vietnam War era. This was another event that I narrowly missed. I had a low number when the military draft was reinstituted. Had I not been in college at the time, I would undoubtedly have been shipped off to the front. Then, when I took the physical ordered by the draft board, I didn’t make the cut. 

There have been moments when I’ve regretted not serving. These moments never seem to last when I realize I was never the military type. Regimentation was not my thing. Besides that, each time I visit The Wall and see the names of guys I knew, I realize my name could be there instead of at the bottom of this blog.

Game Seven

Then, of course, there are three other events I missed attending. These would be the seventh game of the three World Series that my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates won—1960, 1971, and 1979. On October 13, 1960, I was in sixth grade. As I left school that day, all the kids were jumping up and down, screaming about the Mazeroski home run and the Pirate championship.

On October 17, 1971, I was working at a gas station. It was a beautiful, autumn day with sunshine and a gentle breeze blowing the falling leaves around the streets of my college town. Some Pirate fans rode through those streets in a convertible while holding up a homemade sign which read, “Pittsburgh Pirates, 1971 World Champs!” 

Then there was October 17, 1979. It was a Wednesday night game in Baltimore. I didn’t even entertain the thought of laying out the money on top of taking off from work to attend the game. I had kids to feed—boys, nonetheless. I had to settle for seeing it on TV. At least I got to watch it that time.

Throughout our lifetimes, we will have a lot of near misses. Some will be to our benefit while others we may regret. Through it all, I suspect the Lord will lead us to where we need to be when we need to be there. At any rate, rather than dwelling on what we might have missed, let’s live the present moment to the fullest.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]