1988. Ten years old. I don’t remember a solid picture but I do remember in slow motion like a slideshow. My grandparent’s house in Shaler, dressed up and not understanding why – a long black limousine pulls up in the front of the house, I am gaping as a ten year old at this vehicle. Never been this close to one. Ever. Inside, it is like a small house, wondering what is happening and my grandparents and Mom reassuring me trying to calm me down as a hyper ten year old. (Ten year old? What about now?)
The room looks like it rises up to meet me – it is so large, it is packed with people, I mean PACKED. But I do see this – Steelers upon Steelers in uniform, with helmets – honoring Art Rooney‘s wife, Kathleen McNulty Rooney. It was a respect to a family that was humble and had humble beginnings. I remember the players striding by, seeing #12 brush me a simple ten year old wondering, how someone on television can be that close to you in reality. Legends.
I remember from that day on, realizing what the weekends meant watching the Steelers at my grandparents in Pittsburgh – it was more than a game after that frozen Rooney moment. From that moment on, the Pittsburgh Steelers were never JUST the Pittsburgh Steelers, I was raised on the Pittsburgh Steelers alongside the virtues of steel workers, the gridiron, working for everything you received, being humble and thankful for the rewards you received, giving back, and that was just a portion of what was reinforced alongside the game of football and specifically the Pittsburgh Steelers, it became a trait that was to be found in everything we did, in every waking day of our lives.
Fast forward – 1993-1995 – working as a DJ at the Edinboro University radio station, and you know, I had the deep voice that seemed to work well with being a radio host – I loved being in the radio station studio. I knew this is what I wanted to do. Those students a year above me not finding any jobs and myself a mess trying to find myself, with one semester left to graduate, I found myself leaving to Slippery Rock University and leaving a dream behind to pursue a career in education to hopefully sustain my future, aside from the landscaping business I helped run over the summer. Little did I know what coming to Slippery Rock University would do to tie me back to Pittsburgh.
1997. Slippery Rock University. An amazing young lady, Kim Miller, (Kim D at the time) – as an intern at the Pittsburgh Pirates, the only female, I knew to date, that was spectacular at what she did as a statistic intern for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The position was open following her year, and I was not needing to think about whether I wanted to do it for a second. I remember walking with Dr. McCarren into the stadium, meeting all the executives that would introduce me to the job at hand, and just, no words. Walking around the stadium in the back halls, on the field, in the dugout.
Francisco Córdova and Ricardo Rincón. TEN INNINGS. Mark Smith.
I was a Pirate intern that year, and I will never forget this night, EVER. The Three Rivers Stadium SHOOK. All that concrete, shook. It was The Houston Astros, and again, no words, you could feel the stadium shaking, I remember the autographed balls and cards from the players that night,
and STILL have priceless memories in storage, and remember Cordova and Rincon from Mexico saved the night – it was magical. It was a year of tragedy in my personal life, and yet, there were these moments that just – changed so much about me. Steve Blass, Bob Walk, Willie Stargell that year as part of the Pirate organization (back!), Lanny Frattare, and my boss, Marc Garda – there was nothing like it – it was an honor to see so many things, (even exploding hot dogs from the Pirate Parrot) aimed at us
(this is where I received my first experience of mascots and what power they have on an audience – sound familiar?)…
the classic conversations on-air and hearing them live among the broadcasters, Kurt Engle coming to the booth, seeing and keeping the first scorecard Bob Walk ever completed from a game, and so much memorabilia I have in storage, it was not just an intern – it was a personal experience, tied to the expectation of carrying on what an amazing job Kim Miller set in place, and that was the reason Slippery Rock students were so treasured with the Pirates, they carried that integrity with them and we were expected to inherit that expectation in and out of the game as well in what we did. A Pittsburgh tradition.
Walking out with Jose Guillen,
Jason Kendall, and so many more after a night’s game, I was amazed at how casual converstions were and amazed at how “human” the players really were. Many notes were passed and given and one truly stands out right now:
Lanny had alot also going on in his life, as did all the announcers, yet Lanny and everyone always remembered to keep me moving forward with my life despite the things that try to hold you from “rounding the bases.”
What I was learning was that despite being powerhouses in the Pirate organization, when you put your heart in whatever you do, your spirit, your trust, your everything, nothing but good will eventually occur over the bad – taught to me by Marc Garda, showing me that everything, even the smallest detail mattered, to Doran Check, who inspired me to know that the person behind the scenes is often the most important – all the announcers and former/current players of the Pirates that year, the lessons that had been instilled from the Rooney family, that conflicted with all the negative things that could possibly happen, and given the choice to succumb to the negative or rise above it – all was still associated with what Pittsburgh, not just a city, not just a team, but the way you lived your life, came to mean.
Despite almost losing my belief in being able to ride out some pretty rough waters, near death experiences, and so many times I should have never been able to make it through, I was carried through these times thanks to the love and concern of those around me, whether my friends as we travelled through Slippery Rock University together, my professors who believed in me, the Pirate team who worked together as a team on and off the field, my family, my friends from all walks of life, and my students from the very first day I stepped into that classroom. I inherited the spirit of expecting nothing, give everything, and measure your moments. Hard times will come, but can you measure the bad things that happen all the time or how focus on how you overcame them. Slowly, thanks to all those mentioned above, I found the latter to be true and stronger than anything I came to know.
Graduating from Slippery Rock University first in 1998, then on 2003, and having my Dad there –
and my Moms – was bittersweet and they know why. The fact that they never stopped believing in me when I did – that was everything.
2011. I find myself in Mexico (Mexico? Seriously? Me working in MEXICO?! I KNOW. My first year and I slowly started to realize, there are individuals here from Slippery Rock? NO WAY. There are students coming here from SLIPPERY ROCK to student teach? No WAY. “Jason, I know you are from Grove City, and you love the Steelers, where can we see a Steeler Game?” After that, everything was a magic ride to the ‘Burgh itself. Finding Charlie Blanco,
proprietor of the largest football fan club in Mexico, and just finding that place where all of my past and reasons for working hard “jelled” – I laughed at how some things you will never see how they will or could connect, in fact do later in life, it just is hard to put into words, impossible even.
January 10, 2016 I found myself surrounded by amazing friends and in that one room in Mexico City, we have the pride of Pittsburgh running through our screams, yells, and near heart-attacks, and the memories of everyting in the past comes back and yet one things was always there. The underlying theme we all held and have done – we believe in putting our everything into what we do – and as a result, good things are going to happen as a result, maybe not right away, and no one said it was going ot be easy, but if you have enough grit to keep your head up and look down the field, whether the pakying field or this extended game we call life, there are bound to be positive results, “if you just hang in there.”
I can easily say I can measure my life by yardsticks, but every single measurement has been the measurement of those around me – allowing me to keep going. From Harry Hawk, a brother in spirit and from Edinboro’s Phi Kappa Psi, even though we have not seen each other we still carry on like we haven’t missed a day, to Jason Schell keeping this life of memories alive every weekend game to John Powell being the most hysterical & reliable Commish alive, to all the people above, to all the coaches I was lucky enough to coach alongside, to my brother Bob throwing that football back in forth that day on Mercer Street in PA!, to the athletes that put their soul into everything, to the students who believed in me and made me stronger, to every single fiber that connected itself to the same grit that the Black and Gold represents, going “the extra mile” was just the way we lived our lives thanks to you. That is work everything Black and Gold, immaculate even…