Thursday, October 24, 2013

World Series

Every year when the World Series rolls around, I am transported back in time to the early 1970's when I was growing up just north of Pittsburgh.  I remember bringing my little green transistor radio along with me to piano lessons, so I could listen to the playoff game while my brother was taking his lesson. Our crabby piano teacher scoffed at me, but I sat out on her sunny cement patio and cheered on Roberto Clemente and the rest of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They won the World Series in 1971. The next year they lost the National League championship to Johnny Bench and the Cincinnati Reds (my younger brother's favorite player and team). Less than three months later, the Pirates and their fans lost something far worse than a championship. When Clemente's plane went down on New Year's Eve in 1972, I was stunned and heartbroken. I was twelve years old and hadn't yet had much experience with death, especially not with the kind of death that takes away a vibrant, healthy ballplayer in the prime of his life.  My diary entry for January 2 reads, "Dear Diary, The whole country mourns the famous Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente.  He died on a mission of mercy. Maybe someone could replace him as a great ballplayer but no one could replace him as a man . . . I hope no one ever wears Roberto's number again (21). I just can't believe he's dead."  Baseball was never the same for me after that. Oh, I cheered on the Pirates through the rest of the decade and celebrated when they won the World Series again in 1979.  But I never quite got over Clemente's death and the realization that bad things happen to good people even when they are in the midst of doing good things. I didn't like finding out what a scary and unpredictable place the world was. But maybe that's not the only lesson to be learned from Roberto Clemente's life and death; maybe the more important lesson is to make the most of the time you're given--play hard, take care of others, and leave behind a legacy of hope and goodwill.  So next year when the World Series rolls around, I'll be remembering Roberto and reminding myself to live a life that matters. And if the Pirates are playing, I'll be watching . . . 

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