Willie Stargell, Number 8
How do you know you’re a fan? When do you cross the line from interested toaffected, such that you order your life, your activities, and your wardrobe around
a team? Frequently, the moment is clouded by tears, your heart was broken
by a game that you love, and yet, as it always does, love covers the pain. And
each season, you come back, ready for a fresh start and another year of hope.
Being a fan
gives us a larger context for our lives; we share our miseries and our
joys with complete strangers and for a few moments, they aren’t the people our mothers warned
us about but our temporary best friends.
I became a Willie Stargell fan on October 11, 1972. Before then, I followed the
Pirates because my best friends Glenn and Scott did; we spent many afternoons that
summer watching games on their black and white set. A month after my tenth birthday,
watching the final game of the National League Championship Series between the
Reds and the Pirates, I watched Bob Moose (of the Pirates) throw a wild pitch,
letting Bob Foster of the Reds come home with the winning run. Game, series,
pennant to the boys from Cincy. I remember Glenn and Scott’s mom crying, and
for the first time, I felt profound sadness that the season was over. I was
hooked. Personal precipitation precipitating something much larger.
Willie Stargell, number 8 on the Pirates, was my first sports hero, and I’ve worn
number 8 at every opportunity for three and a half decades since. I watched
with joy as Willie came in from left field to play first base, and in 1979 the Pirates again
reigned as World Champions, led by a big number 8 and Sister Sledge’s “We Are
Family.” Five years before “We Are The World,” Willie Stargell celebrated
diversity on his team rather than letting diversity drive divisions.
In the off-season Willie Stargell owned and operated a restaurant in
Pittsburgh. Think about that – he, like other ballplayers in the 70s, had
to work in the winter. He was from the heart of America, but lived year-round by the
three rivers because that’s where he worked — year-round. He was left-handed,
like me. He smiled when he played. It’s hard to find a baseball card of Wilie Stargell
in which he’s not having fun or at least giving that appearance.
Work hard, have fun, lead well – six words to live by.
Last year my son turned 10. He got to pick his own jersey number for the first
time, and for a year and a half, he’s been number 8 as well. He knows why.