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Steve Blass Hits a Home Run at the Library

Former Pirate pitcher Steve Blass stops by the Northern Tier Library to meet with fans and discuss his new book.

 

More than 200 people came out on a hot July evening to hear former Pirate pitcher Steve Blass talk about his new book, "A Pirate for Life."  The fans packed into the Northern Tier Library's downstairs community room, enjoyed free hot dogs and popcorn and talked about the Pittsburgh Pirates and baseball. They greeted Blass with applause as he entered the room.

Moments later, just as the applause was subsiding, former Pirates' catcher and teammate Manny Sanguillen walked in and greeted Blass and the audience.

Everyone in the room gasped in surprise and parents whispered to their children, "That's Manny Sanguillen!"  Many of these parents were children themselves when Manny and Steve played on the 1971 World Series Championship Pittsburgh Pirates team.

Blass still wears his World Series ring, saying it reminds him of the win as well as all the other players on the team.

 "We were family before 'We are Family' came out," he said, referring to the popular song that became a Pirates theme song in the 1970's.

Talk turned to his book, "A Pirate for Life," and Blass told the audience he always felt that he had a book in him. When he found coauthor Erik Sherman, he said, the project was full steam ahead.

Blass said he made his decision to write the book while his wife, Karen, was vacationing with friends in Greece. He worked via telephone with Sherman for four hours every morning over the summer months, cradling the phone to his ear and explaining another chapter in his life.

As the process continued, Sherman produced copy for Blass to edit and approve the old-fashioned way, through the mail. The result is an autobiography of a pitcher whose career began in 1964 with a win over Hall of Famer Don Drysdale and ended when he could no longer throw strikes and no one could figure out why. He retired in 1975.

Blass recalled the early years of his career spent traveling the country in beat-up station wagons while coming up through the minor leagues.

"If we knew then how hard it was to make the big leagues, no one would have done it," he said.  For Blass, it was his love of the game.

Growing up in the small town of Falls Village, CT Blass said he was a "baseball fanatic" who wanted to play baseball all day every day. He married his hometown and high school sweetheart Karen in 1963. Two days later they were off to the Dominican Republic, where he played ball.  

As Pirates' fans know, Blass pitched two games in the 1971 World Series —Games 3 and 7— and allowed only one run in each game.

An audience member asked about Blass' friendship with the 1971 World Series MVP, the late Roberto Clemente.

"He was magic to watch," said Blass, and compared Clemente to current Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutcheon.  

Sanguillen added, "He (Clemente) was my inspiration. He made me grow up to be a great person."

Whlle fielding other questions from the crowd, Blass said his two favorite ballparks were Three Rivers Stadium and Dodger Stadium, the site of his 1964 major league start.

Pressed for a prediction regarding this year's Pirates' season, he said he is "more optimistic this year because we're not one-dimensional."  

Blass joined the Pirates TV and broadcast team in 1983 as a color commentator, a position he still holds.  "Fifty-three years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates gave me the opportunity to live my dream, and I am still living it," he said.

Many baseball fans in the audience were living a dream, too, as they lined up for Blass and Sanguillen to sign copies of Blass' book. The line stretched all the way around the room as everyone awaited their turn to visit with the legends.

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