Willie Stargell and Savoring Summer

Willie Stargell and Savoring Summer
The Pittsburgh Pirates meant everything to me while growing up in central Pennsylvania in the late fifties and early sixties. I knew the team, inside and out – the lineup, the coaches, announcers, even the advertisers on the TV and radio commercials.

I had most of the Pirate statistics memorized, including the current batting averages of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, their RBI's, homeruns, walks and on-base percentages. I could tell you the number of times Clemente stole a base and the number of times he was picked off trying to do so. I'm sure I could also recall the number of times Willie Stargell struck out too. With big-time homerun hitters, I learned at an early age that striking out was not unusual.

Bob Friend, Elroy Face, Dick Groat and all the other names of the players were part of most conversations between my dad and me.

Those player statistics are long-gone from my memory, but one recollection of Willie Stargell still sticks with me today. It wasn't a game stat at all. It was something he said in the twilight of his remarkable career, while the team was contending in the post season on their way to a World Series Championship.

"As you get older ... you definitely savor every moment ... You don't know how many more you're going to have so you try to take advantage of it every time. I felt like a little kid again," said Stargell during a post-game interview in 1979.

Stargell was so right. As we age we all learn to savor just a little more, and we realize it's best to not take anything for granted.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I returned to my home to take my dad to one of his doctor's appointments. While waiting for him, I took a short walk around the property and the recollections of summers past began to well in my memory.

The ripened black raspberries caught my eye as they draped over the embankment across the dirt road from my house.

Without hesitation, or regard for my white tee shirt and socks, I started up the bank. A quick ramble through the brambles and those black seeds once again stained my teeth, just as they did a half century ago. A glance at my attire proved I had just indulged too, even without the support of my seeded smile. My whites were stained with a deep purple, blacker than black – but the taste was well worth it.

And then Willie's words came back to me. Why didn't I learn to savor when I was younger? Why do we tend to relish moments, friendships, flavors and summers more as we age? How I wish I would have discovered this secret to savoring earlier in my life.

As I attempted to wipe my stained fingers with my handkerchief, I looked over my shoulder at the field where wild strawberries had also grown during my childhood. I realized that their time had come and gone already this summer. I missed them by a month. Although I've eaten domestic strawberries countless times since leaving home, I honestly couldn't recall when I last sampled the wild ones. I savored those thoughts and then glanced up the hill in the direction of the dirt road and noticed the edge where the field meets the deeper woods.

"Blackberries will be ripening soon," I thought. I will make an attempt to pick some this year. And if I do, I promise I will savor each one, and try not to ingest mouthfuls at a time as I did as a kid. I thought their supply was inexhaustible in my youth, just as I considered the hours in a day, the days in a summer, and the years in a lifetime – all limitless.

Yes, I will return home again for a taste of those blackberries and will try to remember the Concord grapes too, which ripen later in the fall. When I do, I will undoubtedly recall Willie Stargell's words.

When I returned to my present home that day, I actually watched a Pirate game, the first time in at least three years. It didn't bother me that they are once again in the cellar in their division. I actually savored the experience, along with a bowl of vanilla ice cream, topped with fresh raspberries.

Regardless of your age, I hope you too discover the knack for savoring the pleasures of summer. Whether you experience special times with family, neighbors or friends – or if you appreciate a flavor, an aroma or just a mundane memory, don't take your blessings for granted. Like baseball, Stargell, warm weather and the years in our lives, life's blessings pass by much too quickly.

Now I'm off to smell some roses and root on those Buccos.

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA