IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz was in elementary school when he went to his first Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game at Forbes Field.
“I’ll never forget seeing Roberto Clemente for the first time,” the 15th-year Iowa football coach recalled. “You just talk about beauty and grace. There was a certain charisma and electricity that he gave off.”
Ferentz has remained a Pirates fan, and this week he celebrated his team’s return to the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
“Beat ’em, Bucs,’ Ferentz said. “When I was a kid the Steelers finally came of age in the early 1970s, but prior to that they had many years of futility. And it looks like maybe they traded it off to the Pirates. Because when I was a kid, the Pirates were very good. They had a lot of success.”
Ferentz fondly recalls 1979, when the Steelers and Pirates both won championships.
“It was a fun time to grow up in that area,” Ferentz said. “They (Pirates) kind of fell on hard times after (manager) Jim Leyland left. He had some good young players in the early 1990s. And then for whatever reason, they’ve had some problems. But they’ve certainly done a great job of building the franchise.”
The Pirates clinched a playoff spot Monday night with a 2-1 win over Chicago at Wrigley Field.
“It looks like they have a great young player in (Andrew) McCutchen,” Ferentz said. “I think (manager) Clint Hurdle has done a wonderful job there. The ownership and organization are committed to success. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re in a really tough division with the Cardinals and the Reds. So that doesn’t make it any easier on them.”
Clemente was the face of the franchise when Ferentz was growing up. But one of his favorite players was catcher Manny Sanguillen.
“He was enthusiastic and unorthodox, but a great player,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz can still remember details from the game when he saw Clemente for the first time.
“In the bottom of the ninth he drilled one to center,” Ferentz said. “When he hit a ball, it went on a line.
When he threw a ball, it went on a line. There wasn’t much out his way that he wasn’t going to track down. He was a great defensive player. If he had played in Chicago or New York, he’d be an all-time legend.”
Ferentz can still remember Dec. 31, 1972, when Clemente died in a plane crash. The plane was taking reflief supplies to earthquake victims in Managua, Nicaragua.
“You never forget that,” Ferentz said. “My dad always had the radio on in the morning. I remember laying in bed and his room was around the corner and both doors were open, and I heard the news. It was really sad.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football