Or “How the Pitt Baseball Team + Trees Hall + an Econ Major Helped Shape My Journey to Pitt Football Fandom!” Here is MajorMajors’ bio for all to read and enjoy…
I grew up on Mt. Washington overlooking Pittburgh’s Golden Triangle – though it wasn’t yet quite so golden when I was growing up in the 1950s. My very first memories of the Pitt Panther football team came from the local evening news on TV. When I was twelve years old, I remember seeing these dazzling highlights of guys named Paul Martha, Fred Mazurek, and Rick Leeson. When playing touch football in the playground, I wanted to be those guys, making those long, zigzagging touchdown runs, as much as I wanted to be Buddy Dial or Gary Ballman of the Steelers. (BTW, in 1963, the Martha/Mazurek led Panthers went 9-1; the Steelers had the odd record of 7-4-3.)
No one in my family had gone to college and we had no connections to Pitt. I went to Pitt as the home-town school and am a proud graduate of Pitt’s Civil Engineering program. But I attended Pitt during some really dark days for Pitt football — from 1967 to 1971. It happened that I played on the Pitt baseball team, coached for over three decades by Bobby Lewis. It was here that my connection to Pitt football was cemented for all time.
Unlike now, back then several of the football players played on the baseball team. (Though I always suspected that some of them came out just because the baseball team opened the 1968 and 1969 seasons with weeklong trips in March to play in tournaments at Riverside, CA and Miami, FL, respectively.) Back then, freshmen could not play on the varsity – so I had to play on the freshman team for the 1968 season.
I won a starting outfield job as a Sophomore and I was playing on the same baseball team with guys like pitcher Frank Gustine Jr., who played QB, and our ace pitcher George “Doc” Medich, who played tight-end. Others I can remember were Joe McCain, tailback, Jeff Barr, defensive back, John Simpson, offensive lineman, and Ray Reppert, QB.
Knowing these guys made me root for them on the football field all the more. I really wanted to play football, but as the guy in “Rudy” says, “at 100-and nothin’ and and 5-foot nothin’” that wasn’t going to happen. Even though our football team won few games during my time at Pitt, I went to every home game and rooted like crazy.
In my sophomore year, on our baseball team’s trip to the tournament in Miami, our bus from the airport to the hotel went past the Orange Bowl. The football Panthers had been destroyed by a score of 48–0 the previous fall in that stadium by a Miami team led by two-time All-American and NFL Hall-of-Famer Ted Hendricks. As our bus passed the football stadium, someone was bold enough to yell out from the back of the bus “So which end of that stadium did you guys get blown out of?” A hush fell over the bus as we wondered what reaction that comment would bring. Fortunately the football players took it in stride and didn’t beat the crap out of that player.
By the way, that Miami trip had a couple of firsts for me. First time I flew in an airplane. I still remember leaving Pittsburgh on a frigid March night and getting off the plane around midnight in Miami to a balmy, warm tropical breeze. And this trip was the first time I ever saw “bat girls.” Yes, bat girls. Instead of boring old “bat boys,” Miami, who hosted the tournament, had long-legged, well-tanned, beautiful female students in short shorts (called “hot pants” in the 70s) serving as their “bat girls.” And they were called – can you guess? “The Sugarcanes!” You can’t make this stuff up.
It wasn’t like the Hurricanes or the other southern teams in the tournament needed the northern guys to be distracted or anything. These were our first games of the season – we ended up 2 and 5 for the trip (didn’t help that one of our top pitchers became incapacitated on the trip and couldn’t pitch, but I won’t tell that story in case he reads this…). Needless to say, Upitt would not have been happy with our performance (and Annie is probably cringing about the “bat girls”).
Course we were at a severe disadvantage — aside from the Sugarcanes — given that the only batting practice we had a chance to take aside from a couple of frigid days outside where you couldn’t feel your fingers, was in the batting cage under the bleachers in the Field House. And if you ever ran the track in the Field House, you know it was kind of dark and dingy back there going around the curves (but maybe that was to help sharpen our batting eyes). Of course we had also “practiced” our fielding and throwing inside Trees Hall.
My baseball career at Pitt was nothing special, but I’m proud that I started and lettered for two seasons. I played with some great guys, two of whom ended up playing in the majors. Doc Medich, from Aliquippa, was a year ahead of me and pitched in the majors for 10 years. Ken Macha, from Monroeville, was a year behind me and played in the majors for several years, played in Japan for a few years, and then had a long coaching/managing career in the majors. (By the way, Ken Macha was at the Pitt Alumni Golf Outing back in May and he ended up having the longest drive on the two long drive holes – Go Pitt Baseball!)
During my time at Pitt, the baseball team went 55 and 30. Meanwhile, the football team went 1-9, 1-9, 4-6, and 5-5. That totals up to 11 and 29 – not a good era of Pitt football, to say the least. But there was this one quite memorable game – the 1970 Pitt-WVU game.
I was there with a certain Econ/Russian major. We stayed the whole game, even though Pitt was down 35 to 8 at the half. We were rewarded because after halftime a miracle occurred. In the second half, Pitt never punted, scored two TDs in the 3rd quarter, scored two TDs in the 4th quarter, held WVU scoreless, and went on to win 36-35.
Though it was so long ago, what I remember was Pitt grinding out each possession in that second half. No big plays, they just gained 3 or 4 or 5 yards every play and converted some 4th down plays. Quarterback Davy “White Shoes” Havern sticks in my brain. I think the winning touchdown pass went to Bill Pilconis with a minute or two left to play. What a great memory that game was – the best Pitt game I ever attended.
The Econ/Russian major was on the tennis team; I played on the baseball team. We had met in Trees Hall – I remember the exact spot. One time while we were dating, she and I went up to Trees Hall together – her to go to tennis practice, and me to go to baseball practice. As I was heading for the men’s dressing room, and she was continuing down the hall to the women’s dressing room, I called to her something about our date that evening. The guy who handed out the sweats-and-towels for baseball practice saw us and heard what I said and after he admired her walking down the hall, he turned to me with a look of disbelief and said, “She’s going out with you? Really, she’s going out with you?” This remains about the best compliment that I’ve ever had.
These many years later, the Econ major and I have been married for 45 years and are still going to Pitt football games together. She cheers and has forgotten about any loss before we get home. I cheer and take several days to get any loss out of my system. So for me, Pitt Civil Engineering, Pitt baseball, Pitt football, a certain Econ/Russian major, and Trees Hall will forever be tied together – Hail to Pitt!
Oh, and my response to the sweats-and-towels guy’s question was “Yes, she’s going out with me. Am I a lucky guy or what!”