Families come out for historic night at PNC Park

PITTSBURGH – So many people just had to be here for the historic night, for different personal reasons but also to share one common emotional thread – the pure and utter joy of seeing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the postseason for the first time in 21 years.

“It’s awesome to have playoff baseball back in the ‘Burgh,” Jennifer Scalise of Pittsburgh said Tuesday outside PNC Park.

Scalise was 14 the last time the Pirates made the postseason in 1992, and she loved coming to the games with her father, Mickey, who has since passed away.

“I remember when we played the Braves and all the excitement,” she said. “I know if my dad was still alive, he would have been down here with us today.”

Many people have vivid, wonderful memories of going to baseball games as a kid, and Scalise wanted her two boys to finally be able to share in the playoff excitement this time around. She brought 9-year-old Brandon out to Tuesday’s game, as well as 6-month-old Jacob, with the entire family decked out in Pirates gear.

“I just wanted them to experience it,” Jennifer said.

“This is fun,” Brandon said. “I’m very glad we’re here.”

And the 6-month-old baby? He might seem too young to know what’s going on, but …

“He watches it on TV with us, and when we start cheering he just smiles and gets all excited,” Jennifer said.

Fans young, old and all ages in between packed PNC Park for the game against the Cincinnati Reds, most wondering if they’d ever get a chance to bask in that thrill after watching the Pirates lose for so long.

“Twenty-one years of pent-up emotions are going to erupt tonight,” said Rod Gregson of La Canada, Calif., a Pirates fan for 52 years who flew across the country just so he could be at the game.

“I was with them through all the good years with Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell,” Gregson added, “and I’ve been a fan for the last 20 years when they haven’t had a winning season.”

Gregson, 60, grew up in California and has no Pittsburgh ties, yet he’s been a Pirates fan since he was 8 years old. It’s often difficult to explain why fans fall in love with a certain team outside their home region – it usually begins with an offbeat story of some sort – and Gregson is a perfect example.

“I was 8 years old and trading baseball cards with my best friend,” he said. “He had a card with that iconic photo of Bill Mazeroski coming down to home plate after doing every boy’s dream, hitting the World Series-winning home run [in 1960]. I said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know the Pirates won the World Series.'”

And just like that, “I have been a Pirates fan ever since,” he said.

The baseball bond between father and son is a powerful thing, as those who have seen the classic movie “Field of Dreams” can attest. One of the most common sights at the ballpark Tuesday was a boy walking with his father, and while those youngsters might not realize it now, the memories they made probably will end up being some of their most cherished ones of their dad.

“I hope so,” Jeff Schmidt, 55, of McCandless said of his 8-year-old son, Greg. “He fell in love with baseball last year and has been a huge Pirates fan ever since. His mother surprised us with tickets tonight. We are both thrilled to be here.”

Everyone was, exemplified by the deafening cheers all across the ballpark throughout the evening

“I’m excited,” Greg Schmidt said. “I want the Pirates to win.”

Cory Giger is a sportswriter for the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror.