21

 

Welcome to our regular Saturday feature “What Aggravates Me”

This is for my old friend Greg Crossey. He’s a big supporter of this site and especially of this column. Greg’s been campaigning this week to get people to sign the petition, #retire21. If you’re unfamiliar, this is a movement to retire the number 21 through all of Major League Baseball. That was the number worn by the late great Roberto Clemente.

Clemente was a hero on and even more off the field. If you don’t know anything about him, look it up instead of posting a picture of your lunch. I was very young…just beyond the embryo stage…but I had the opportunity to see him play.

There was a way that he carried himself. It was like there were the other players and then Roberto. On the rare occasion that he bounced one back to the pitcher, he still ran full speed to first base. I remember seeing pitchers panic at the sight of him speeding down the line and throw the ball over the first baseman’s head. How many guys run out a grounder to the pitcher today?

He played his entire eighteen year career right here in Pittsburgh. He would have played longer had he not died tragically. Again, look it up. Nobody wants to see what you’re about to eat. Anyway, Greg brought up the time that Roberto was spotted in our old neighborhood in McKees Rocks. This was one of my early articles here, from August 2015. Since Clemente was called the Great One, I called this not a great visit. So, you can read this and then go to Retire21 and sign the petition.

If you’re too young to have seen him play, the stories you hear are not exaggerations. He was that good. Other worldly would be the best way to describe him. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. There were no performance enhancing drugs back then. Sure, a lot of the players were wired on speed and Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter on acid, but no steroids.

I was nine years old in fourth grade in the West Park area of McKees Rocks. There was a rumor going around the school that Roberto Clemente had been spotted on Broadway Avenue which was right around the corner. The Rox, as it is affectionately known, gets a lot of bad press, but it was a great place to be a kid. Still, there was no conceivable reason for the great Roberto Clemente to be there.

Mr. Fort was our fourth grade teacher. A lot of the teachers back then were ancient women that came over on the Mayflower. They believed education should be a disciplinary and joyless endeavor. Mr. Fort was the kind of teacher you wanted to have. He was young, fresh out of college. He used to tell jokes and play ball with us at recess. He made learning fun and the old bitches hated him.

There was research going on to find out if the rumor was true. All you had to do was go around the corner and find somebody on the street. They all had to know. One thing about people from McKees Rocks, we are not known for our shyness. If Roberto was in the area at least one person would have inquired,

“Hey Clemente, what the hell you doin’ round here?”

What we found out was that Roberto’s chiropractor had opened an office on Broadway. Mr. Fort made us a proposition.

“If you can stay quiet for a few minutes, I will go over and see if I can get him to come to the school.”

We had just come back from lunch. We were full of chocolate milk and Twinkies. The height of a sugar buzz and we’re supposed to behave? Still, the payoff was huge. We folded our hands on our desks and sat like little angels.

Before he left, Mr. Fort asked Miss Cole to keep an eye on us. She was the hot young sixth grade teacher that all the boys had a crush on. I always thought she would have looked good as Catwoman. Hey, I was nine, what other fantasies was I going to have?

It seemed like an eternity sitting there behaving when Mr. Fort burst in beaming with the news. Roberto Clemente was going to stop at the corner store and pick up enough popsicles for every student in the school. He would then greet each of us personally and hand us the treat!

We were cheering loudly when Mrs. Hubbard poked her head in. (This is the only name that’s been changed in this story in the event some sick bastard actually bred with this miserable old woman and there are descendants still out there.) Mrs. Hubbard was the principal of the school. I think she got the position by being older and more wretched than anybody else. We all believed she lived in an old secluded cabin in the woods with a heated kettle waiting to boil children. I remember she answered the door one time when I was selling candy and I ran like hell to get away.

The look on her face could turn you to stone as she uttered,

“This is no way for a class to behave. Mr. Fort may I see you in the hall.”

When he came back in we could tell by the look on his face it was bad news. Mrs. Hubbard was not going to allow the Great One into the school because it would disrupt our studies. All the air was sucked from the room. There would be no Roberto and no Popsicle, which for a fat kid like me was an added bonus.

Now I don’t remember what I learned that day but I do know what I missed out on. It was a different time and these nasty old ladies did not believe fun and learning went together. I never did get to meet my hero, he wasn’t with us much longer after that day. But I still say he’s the best I’ve ever seen.

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