Pittsburgh Pirates baseball on the radio: Goodnight Jolly Roger


The commute from downtown Pittsburgh to the Greenfield neighborhood can be nasty, despite being merely four miles. I snap at jaywalkers and newborn potholes, but my nerves ease as home nears. Once there, I hang my slightly frayed tie on the hook with seven others in similar states. The ring on the collar of my white dress shirt has darkened. It needs scrubbed now, but screw it; I’m damned exhausted. I snatch a wrinkled pair of shorts from the mounting pile of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. I’m most comfortable at my least presentable.

Finally, I grab my handheld shortwave radio from the junk drawer and lean my shoulder into the storm door separating the kitchen and the back deck. I’m greeted with uncomfortably humid, but awfully welcome, summer air. The workday is already a vague memory, and first pitch is minutes away.

Turn on the radio.

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Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. Homer Simpson has Moe’s Bar. Incarcerated Hannibal Lector has memories of Florence, specifically the “Duomo, seen from the Belvedere.” Here, on my deck – with a Pittsburgh Pirates game on the radio – I’m exactly where I should be.

Radio waves encompass all voids. A Pirates broadcast floats unseen, odorless, and tasteless – yet it’s everywhere, all at once. A Greg Brown “clear the deck” home run call or a dry Bob Walk quip already pervade my sleepy neighborhood for as far as I can see in every direction. The radio snatches the personalities, and the game itself, from the nothingness of the omnipresent air and translates them so I can be an audience of one.

The barely audible background static compliments the pauses in commentary. White noise surely beats the bombardment of green screen birthed corporate logos and gaudy ads that flash beside the catcher’s shoulder like a flip book of highway billboards. Sunoco and Taco Bell – much like crying and designated hitters – do not belong in baseball. Save the propaganda for the outfield wall.

No Fox Sports 1 strike zone grids, no commercial breaks brought to you by Miller Lite in the brand-new NASA engineered Reverse Inertia Bottle, and no trailers for The Hangover 6. Five-second station identification breaks be damned.

Yes sir, Brownie and Rock will be welcomed back as ol’ warm weather companions when the umpire says “play ball.” Breaks in action will be graced by the personalities of Steve Blass and Tim Neverett, and not corrupted by pandering crowd shots of rowdy Cubs fans in from out-of-town, or the snoozing three-year-old wearing the over-sized Parrot hat.

Blass’ tales of attempting to cure the disease of his namesake by wearing loose-fitting underwear at the behest of fan mail, or Walkie’s “lucky noise,” shine when unencumbered by pre-2010 stock footage of the Golden Triangle, or close-ups of two beagles tussling during “Bring Your Dog To The Park Night”. Only hot dogs belong at the park. And down with Twitter Tuesday.

Listen when the broadcasters pause, and discover explicit crowd chatter, or organ music normally buried in the veritable bloatware of live television.

Pop a Cracker Jack and close your eyes. You’re in the bleachers and parking is free, and curbside.

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My deck is outside where the air is fresh — well, as fresh as air up-wind from the industrial Mon Valley can be. And the clouds directly above are the same clouds huffing towards PNC Park from the east. The buzz of the Goodyear Blimp –sounding like an airborne lawn mower — passes overhead en route to the North Shore. A sudden rain means — in about five minutes — Greg Brown will announce that the grounds crew has began to gather near the infield tarp.

Sometimes my two-year-old son will join me outside. He’ll wander about the wooden planks while his father rants about a rare booted ground ball off Jordy Mercer‘s shin, or raves about a Marte gap-shot that ricochets about the North Side Notch. “Dig, baby, dig!” Yes, I’ll startle my boy, and the cat watching from the living room window sill will scurry when the scene outside devolves into lunacy. But my resilient son will recover and go about fumbling with his plastic John Deere tractor, and the cat will return amid a humdrum 1-2-3 inning.

The world darkens while the innings mount. My boy, having seen and heard enough childishness from his old man, retires to his bedroom where Mom will read him Goodnight Moon. I’ll teach him the game, and we’ll have a catch, soon enough. But for now, sleep tight.

The little fella’ is replaced by assorted nocturnal moths — there’s always one white beast that beats its wings on the screen door like simultaneous jackhammers — and countless unseen buzzing bastards that land on my eyelids, and heckle my wildly swatting palms. The price of backyard admission, I suppose.

The Big Dipper now dominates the heavens, and gradually tilts toward the north as the game enters its twilight too.

Blass’ tales of attempting to cure the disease of his namesake by wearing loose-fitting underwear at the behest of fan mail, or Walkie’s “lucky noise,” shine when unencumbered by pre-2010 stock footage of the Golden Triangle, or close-ups of two beagles tussling during “Bring Your Dog To The Park Night”.

The score tightens and Clint Hurdle calls on Mark Melancon to clinch. I don’t need an TV screen to see the Shark charge across the outfield grass; my imagination is in 3D, HD, and supports THX Dolby audio. The couple of empty IPA bottles near my feet mark the hours like rings on a tree mark the years. The cold beer in my hands (A Belgium Trip-Trip-Trippel) combats the escalating late-inning jitters.

The Shark chomps bats, 1-2-3, and I can hear the Jolly Roger on my front porch flapping, as though the final swing-and-miss pushes a breeze towards Pittsburgh’s East End.

I power down the radio, gather the debris at my feet, and return inside the small plain house where my life is stored. No worries, I’ll do it all again tomorrow. And the next night, and the next. 162 games is a long season, but it’ll go by too fast.

Goodnight moon. Goodnight Greg Brown and Bob Walk. Goodnight Pedro home run ball that jumped over the moon.

Goodnight Jolly Roger.