Register Citizen sports editor Pete Paguaga gave us a treat with his story from Great Barrington about the annual Steve Blass Golf Tournament, which raises money for the Region 1 Athletic Committee. He never forgets his roots and the people who helped him along the way.
It was 42 years ago that Blass won two games in the 1971 World Series, and residents of Falls Village, North Canaan and the whole northwest corner honored him with “Steve Blass Day.”
It was a festive celebration, holiday-like, a picnic/clambake/country fair in bright sunlight. There was a parade from the Canaan State Police Barracks to railroad square in North Canaan. Blass stood up in the back of an open car (or was it a pickup truck?) through the square to the speakers platform with various speakers, including Blass’ high school coach at Housatonic Valley Regional, Ed Kirby.
Steve had always been a popular figure on home grounds and around the county, and he was surely the people’s choice that day. Near the end of the program, after Blass had spoken, it was announced that the railroad square would henceforth be known as “Steve Blass Square.”
High profile sports writers from major New York and Boston newspapers and all the local papers and TV-Radio outlets, were there for the event and for the press conference that followed. Blass, even as a very young minor league pitcher while he was working his way up to big league celebrity was always easy on his feet in front of an audience. This press conference was a piece of cake for the man who had pitched two World Series complete games, a three-hitter and a four-hitter including the seventh game clincher, against Baltimore. He was the talk of baseball. It was his finest professional moment and he made it a great moment for the townspeople who honored him.
I first met Blass in the 1960 off-season when he labored in the minors. Not yet 20 years old, Blass spoke that evening at a Valley Park A.C. dinner.
Eventually he made the Pirates and began a 10-year career that ended in 1974. He would often come home during the winters. During these times, he stopped at my house on Woodbine Street several times to challenge me at Ping Pong. We had many laughs, and he ate more than a few of my dear wife’s cookies but I simply could not beat him at Ping Pong.
Two or three times, when I knew he was going to pitch, I would go to Shea Stadium to see work and write about him. One afternoon, I did this, driving to New York with the late Flash Pollock. In the visitors’ locker room before the game, we had a nice talk and he introduced me to the little shortstop, Fred Patek, later traded to Kansas City, telling Freddie, “He’s from the good country.”
Last time we met, we had lunch in the press room at Wrigley Field in Chicago. He was there as part of the Pirates broadcast team. The Cubs and Bucs would play their game a couple of hours later. I was just a visitor from out of town on a press pass arranged by my paper. We talked about baseball and the good country.
It was terrific and I took from it instructions to say hello to everyone in the northwest corner.
Having established himself in the iron hearts of Pittsburgh baseball fans and loving the Pirates he remained and made his home there. He had a job with a firm that sold high school class rings for several years and then became a broadcaster for the Pirates. It would have been interesting to hear what he had to say about this year’s Pirates, but I didn’t make it to Great Barrington Monday.
I feel good about what the team has done because I know what it means to him.
Blass authored a book called “A Pirate For Life” (with Erik Sherman) that was well-received, and a couple of years ago, the Pirates honored him at their stadium. Couldn’t happen to a better guy.