#Pittsburgh Made Me A Sports Fan Once Again

myPittsburghSportsBy Patricia Zick @PCZick

Sports Fan? “No way,” she said before she moved to Pittsburgh.

This is a tale of a woman who rebelled against her upbringing with four older, and athletic, brothers.

For years, I hated sports because they took most of my family away from me on weekends and holidays. They might have only gone as far as the living room floor, sprawling out in front of our black and white television set adorned with rabbit ears. (For those of you too young to know, the rabbit ears were antennas, pointed toward the nearest television stations.) My brothers and father focused solely on the game at hand. Sports also took my parents away as they attempted to attend every sports event of each of my brothers.

Yes, I hated sports, with certain conditions. I loved the Detroit Tigers because one of my brothers signed with them in 1965, and we went to many games during his two-year stint in the minor leagues. I only loved them live – not on the television.BigBrotherTigers

My first husband was not an athlete, and he didn’t share my family’s obsession with professional and college football, basketball, golf, hockey, and baseball. I buried my head in the sand when we moved to Florida to the land of Gators. I worked with folks who wore orange and blue underwear, and still I resisted through the Spurrier years and Tebowdom.

Then something miraculous occurred. I moved to Pittsburgh and married a man who’d grown up with my brothers in Michigan, yet lived in southwestern Pennsylvania for more than three decades. He indoctrinated me when he took me to a driving range for my first attempt in forty years at swinging a club. I missed and nearly spun myself around on the fake grass. Embarrassed, I looked at my Pittsburgh man.

“Come on,” he said. “You come from a long line of athletes. You have this in your genes.”

At first, it ticked me off. And then, it clicked. I swung and hit the ball more than 200 yards.

Thus began my re-indoctrination into the sports world.

The training continued with my first Steelers game at Heinz Field on downtown Pittsburgh’s northside. How could I resist a stadium where the glittering lights of downtown skyscrapers reflected in the three rivers of Pittsburgh? How could I resist the giant Heinz ketchup bottles at one end of the stadium that open and pour out ketchup when the home team makes it to the red zone?

My rebellion halted the first time I saw a giant plastic bottle with fake red ketchup pouring out of its top.Steelers Fans

We went to an August 2009 Pirates game at PNC Park, which is rated as one of the top baseball stadiums in Major League Baseball. It was a Friday night at the end of yet another losing season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We were nearly alone in the seats and moved as close as we could to the action. I saw Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker in action and wondered why the team couldn’t do better. We went to more games in 2010, 2011, and 2012 as they continued to lose, with short glimmers of hope when the bats of Pedro Alvarez and “Cutch” slung balls into the bleachers. I slowly became a fan.

PNC Park

PNC Park

Then there were the Penguins. We went to several games each season. Last year, they were contenders once again for the Stanley Cup only to lose badly to Boston in post-season play. I was sad for Crosby, Malkin, and the rest of the young men who played so hard for Pittsburgh.

To put salve on the wound, expectations began rising for the Pirates in spring 2013. I refused to hope for anything but a win at the games I attended. We went four times this season, and they lost each time. We waited for two months, and then couldn’t resist heading down to PNC Park for one more try a few weeks ago. This time – four years after my first game – the stadium was filled with cheering fans, and they won.

A few weeks ago, the Pirates and their fans could boast about their first winning season in twenty years. They most certainly will be in the playoffs once the regular season ends next weekend.

I can’t explain how it happened, but it did. I’m almost a bigger fan than my husband because I always hope for the win. He gives up early in the games, but I hold on for the miracle. In my miracle, the Steelers beat the Bears despite a two-touchdown deficit; the Penguins win at least one game against the Bruins in the playoffs; and the Pirates make it to the World Series.

If my miracles continue to occur, the Tigers and the Pirates will slug it out for the top honor in October.

If this happens, there’s no way I’ll lose.

My husband was right this one time. It really is in my genes.golfpros

Falling in Love Twice

two loves – the man and the city

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I fell in love twice several years ago. The first time I fell in love with my husband. The second time I fell in love with the city he called home for more than three decades:  Pittsburgh.

“You’re moving where?” family and friends asked. Even strangers asked me why I would move from Florida, the Sunshine State, to the cold north. I still am asked that question.

Each time I answer that love brought me here – twice. Pittsburgh remains a well-kept secret from most of the country, except for those of us who know about its not-so-secret charms.

How did this second love affair begin? Perhaps it began in a geography class in Michigan, my first year in college in 1974. That’s when I learned about the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converging to form the mighty Ohio, giving Pittsburgh a starring role in the Industrial Revolution of this country.

The idea of water creating our urban centers left an impression. Then I never thought much about Pittsburgh until 2009, when love brought a renaissance to my world.

Downtown

Probably the first surprise was the landscape of the Pittsburgh area. When I drove into the city from the airport, I marveled at the hills and the valley below created by the three rivers of Pittsburgh. There are particular vistas all around the city and its environs that allow me to believe anything is possible.

I lived in Florida for nearly thirty years, having moved there from Michigan in 1980. Many of the residents come from somewhere else. Finding a native Floridian resembles the search for that old needle in the haystack.

When I first came to Pittsburgh, I noticed a difference right away. Most people I met and still meet were born and raised in the Pittsburgh area. Although they might think of moving somewhere else, they really do not intend to leave. I’ve learned those who do leave tend to return.

Soon after I moved to the Steel City, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported folks volunteered to paint planters downtown to freshen up for spring. No wonder Pittsburgh could reinvent itself after U.S. Steel left town. The people – not institutions – made it possible because they love this place, which uniquely exists as the western East, the eastern West, the southern North and the northern South of the United States.

Places of green still exist here because the hills make some sections uninhabitable, both surprising and delighting me. I am an urban country girl, and I have always wanted it both ways. Here I’ve found that balance in both my surroundings and in my personal life.

I love the hills, but I love the architecture of the churches, commercial buildings, and homes as well. Studying those structures is a lesson in American history all by itself. The bridges are also a wonder of engineering and architecture. Pittsburgh has more bridges than any other city in the world.

Ohio River bridge 25 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh

My love affair intensified after a visit to the Heinz History Center. I found myself curiously emotional as I learned about the city and its inhabitants. I never realized so many influential folks from Pittsburgh played an important role in my life. Dr. Benjamin Spock taught me I would not spoil my child by picking her up when she cried, and Mr. Rogers visited our neighborhood every day to reinforce the concepts of friendship and citizenship in my young daughter.

Rachel Carson, whose environmental writing helped develop awareness of DDT and the pollutants in the air, inspires me in my writing and life. Nellie Bly broke through glass ceilings allowing me privileges unknown to the women of her generation.

Stephen Foster immortalized the place I lived in Florida for nearly three decades through song. He never visited “way down upon the Suwannee River,” but he called Pittsburgh home.

Although I did not know it at the time, Pittsburgh and its inhabitants served as the backdrop to my life, from the ketchup I poured on my burgers to the polio shot I received as a child. No wonder I fell hard for this place of steel with its soft edges and open arms.

My surprise at falling in love with Pittsburgh is exemplified in the surprise that comes whenever I approach the downtown area from my home 45 minutes west of the city. Within one mile of the center of Pittsburgh, there is no view of a skyline, only the hillside and then the sign announcing the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Approaching Fort Pitt Tunnel on I-376

The tunnel is a mile long cutting through the rock of the hillside. The tunnel’s lights guide the way when suddenly daylight is seen at the end.

light at the end of Fort Pitt Tunnel

Suddenly, the car bursts out into the sunshine and I’m crossing the Monongahela River and there is the surprise and delight of a city in its Renaissance – Pittsburgh in all it glory with the Ohio to the left and the Allegheny straight ahead, and a distinctive skyline of steel and glass. That’s all it took for me to fall in love with my new city.

Pittsburgh skyline

Pittsburgh also provides the backdrop for my new marriage. As I traverse the city and experience the Strip District and its glorious markets, cruise the three rivers and cheer the Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates, I am certain my decisions to marry and to move here are victories for love both times.

Heinz Field – home of the Steelers

Note: This was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on May 5, 2010 in the “Raves” guest column as “Raves: She first fell hard for a Pittsburgher, then for his city.” It’s published under my former name, Patricia Behnke, three months before our wedding.