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, the announcers, even the advertisers on the TV and radio commercials.

I had most of the Pirate statistics memorized, including the then-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. And those memorable chats with dad mean more to me with each passing year.

More than just statistics
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 postseason 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." Stargell said those memorable words during a postgame interview in 1979.

Willie 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. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.

Taking a stroll
Such was the case a few weeks ago when I returned to my previous home to take a short walk and just look around in my old stomping grounds. My walk was somewhat short because I don’t get around well these days. As I strolled around the old property, 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 family’s former house.

Without hesitation or regard for my new T-shirt, light-colored shorts, or clean socks, I started up the path toward the patch. After a short ramble through the brambles, I glanced down to notice a few wounds from the ever-present thorns on the wild canes.

Being on blood thinners made the lesions look a lot worse than they actually were. It’s a good thing that I hadn’t planned on going anywhere else, too. I didn’t want to startle anyone with dried blood on my legs.

As I hopped back in the car and looked in my rear-view mirror, I laughed out loud when I spotted those black seeds wedged between each of my teeth, just as they so often were a half century ago.

A glance at my attire provided further proof that I had just indulged, too, even without the support of my seeded smile. I had stains on my shirt and shorts. My teeth, lips, and tongue seemed as if they were sprayed with a deep purple dye, blacker than black – but the taste of those berries was well worth it.

Back to Stargell
And then Willie's words came back to me. Why didn't I learn to savor such things 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 had missed their season 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 to be all limitless.

Yes, God willing, I hope to return to my former home again for a taste of those blackberries and I 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 and I expect to savor those flavors and not gulp the fruits so quickly.

Summers fly by
When I returned to my present home that day, I tuned in to a Pirate game on cable. It didn't bother me that they were once again close to the cellar in their division. I actually savored the experience, along with a bowl of vanilla ice cream, topped with fresh black raspberries.

Regardless of your age, I hope you also 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