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Baseball Notebook: Flashbacks, trips and other 'Q' memories

Sunday, May 04, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

History (and the rogue Devil Rays fan from St. Petersburg who e-mailed this week) might prove The Guy In The Stands wrong, but he'll go so far as to make a blanket statement that no fan has ever looked across an IC Light at his favorite bartender and muttered:

"Ya know, before I die, I've really got to take in a ballgame at Qualcomm Stadium. Yeah, buddy ... Wrigley, The Fens and then The Q."

Note to bartenders: If you come across such a person, please refuse further service, signal for security and call him a cab.

To the best of The Guy's knowledge, San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium has been called neither venerable nor storied in its 35 years as home to a major-league team (and The Guy would use the term major-league loosely for most of those 35). It is not hallowed nor does it possess friendly confines, either.

It has no ivy nor Green Monster.

No magic. No mystique. No signature Carlton Fisk or Bill Mazeroski moment. No architectural je nais sais quoi.

Even Kevin Costner would find very little poetry to wax about.

For every Tony Gwynn or Dave Winfield who played there, there were 50 Enzos, Ollies and Ivans.

It's just a big ol' football stadium on the other side of the continent where the Pirates have played late at night for 35 years either on their way to L.A. or on their way out of L.A. A National League way station that produced scores that we were not up late enough to hear nor done early enough to make the morning paper.

Did you even realize Thursday's 5-2 win was the Pirates' final game at The Jack/The Q, let alone find yourself tearing up that the locals will never again play on the same soil as Frank Reberger and Archi Cianfrocco once did? Didn't think so.

The Padres will move into new Petco Park in 2004, leaving behind a stadium that, well, was just a stadium. The way all houses are not homes. The way not all cars are '57 T-Birds.

That said, The Guy will still be sorry to see it go. Because even though it was as important around this part of the country as surf reports, it still provided background to five memorable Pirates moments. (Please, don't ask for six.) Or have you forgotten ... ?

June 12, 1970: Dock Ellis fires his now famous LSD-laced no-hitter, beating the Padres, 2-0. It was the only no-hitter of his career, though it really should have counted as two seeing as he saw at least two of everyone and everything that night. "Sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't," Ellis later said.

June 7, 1972: The Pirates sweep one of the more improbable twi-night doubleheaders in club history. After winning the opener, 12-5, the teams go 17 scoreless innings in the nightcap before the Pirates win, 1-0, in the 18th when Mike Corkins walks Gene Alley with the bases loaded. The game ends at 4:37 a.m. Pittsburgh time, but that only begins to tell the quirky story. Bob Johnson earns the save after pitching 5 1/3 innings of relief in Game 1 for the win. Game 2 starter Ellis retires 22 Padres in a row from the second to ninth innings. But Padres starter Clay Kirby outdoes him, pitching 13 shutout innings. Dave Cash, Al Oliver and Willie Stargell play all 27 innings and go a combined 16 for 39. All Stargell wants to talk about afterward, though, is his part in a double steal in the 18th to help set up the go-ahead run -- his first SB in three years. "Did you see that slide?" he asks anyone who will listen. Or is still awake.

June 20, 1977: The first meeting West of Taste for what ESPN ranks as two of the 10 worst uniforms in history -- the Padres' dogpie brown-and-mustard yellows vs. the Pirates' mix-and-match blacks, yellows, stripes and whites. Throwup uniforms in a time before they became throwback. It would be the beginning of the end for double knits as we know them, Mr. Blackwell demands equal time on the op-ed page of the San Diego Union Tribune and somewhere in Texas Ellis thinks he's having a flashback.

Aug. 25, 1979: Proof that if we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat it, the teams go 19 innings this time and a Pirates-record 6 hours, 12 minutes before Tim Foli singles in Bill Robinson for a 4-3 win to jumpstart a key 8-2 West Coast road trip in the club's most recent world championship season.

April 27, 1990: Wally Backman becomes the first National League player in 15 years to go 6 for 6 in a 9-4 win. Considering the track record of fantastic doings when the teams get together, it proves ironic that to accomplish his feat, Backman 1) does not require 18 innings, 2) does not require 6-plus hours, 3) does not involve the wearing of colors that shouldn't be thrown in the washing machine together, and 4) does not require hallucinogenics.

No Rena-l failure

If you don't think the wife feels the pressure when her husband has a no-hitter going, think again. They may even feel it in more ways than you can imagine. With her husband in the midst of pitching a no-hitter Sunday vs. San Francisco, nature called for Rena Millwood. She didn't want to go, superstition said she shouldn't go ... but then, she had to go. When she finally got back to her seat -- after fighting one of those long Veterans Stadium restroom lines -- she was, uh, relieved to see that husband Kevin still had not allowed a hit.

"If he had given up one while I was gone, he would have killed me," Rena said.

Gee, wouldn't you think, "My husband has a no-hitter going; would you mind if I cut?" might carry some weight in the restroom. Even in Philadelphia.

To sir, with little love

Wimbledon announced this week that curtsies and bows would no longer be required on Centre Court. But they might now be the rule in the Orioles' clubhouse, and not just when Cal Ripken drops in to say hi.

Pitcher Sidney Ponson returned Tuesday to his native Aruba, a dependency of the Netherlands, to be made a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Royal House by Queen Beatrix.

So what is it to be? Sir Sidney? Kiss thy glove, knave, and strike thee out?

Yeah, right. Remember: We're talking about a clubhouse full of overgrown kids here. Word of his knighthood was greeted, shall we say, less than regally.

"Hey, Sir Shrek!" shouted a teammate, noting that Ponson and the Disney ogre have never been seen in the same room.

"I guess not many people have accomplished much there," offered another.

Considering that he is 43-55 lifetime and is joined in novice knighthood by Gene Kingsale -- a Detroit Tiger, for goodness sakes -- that might not be too far from the truth. But we'll allow Ponson his glory. Not that he expects much to come of it in the way of perks, anyway, although...

"If [the queen] gives me Amsterdam, you never know."

Ponson's dream team

Inspired by Sidney Ponson's knighthood, The Guy is compelled to honor him in the only way he knows how -- with a list fit for royalty. So, prepare thee thyself and strike ye ruffles and flourishes. He presenteth Thy Loyal Batting Order of The Jubileo Diamond:

Our team will, of course, play in Joker Marchant Stadium, where they will open their season vs. the Lords of Flatbush. And to call the games? Who else? Bob Prince.

Boy on the hood

Never let it be said that Mike Veeck's St. Paul (Minn.) Saints of the independent Northern League allow an opportunity to dabble in the outrageous pass them by. The Saints will hold Randy Moss Hood Ornament Day Aug. 16. The reference to Moss bumping a traffic control officer with his car in Minneapolis last fall is about as subtle as backlash for a Dixie Chicks concert at a Republican revival meeting.

This 'n' that

Not to beat a dead tiger (but it just keeps asking for it). Detroit finished April with 55 runs -- 22 fewer than its previous April low (1973) and just two more than its low for any month (53). ... Remember former Pirate Lou Collier? Light hitter, erratic arm. Going into Thursday, he was leading the International League in RBIs with 24 playing for Pawtucket. ... Of other former Pirates, Jose Guillen is making the most of another chance with the Reds. He was hitting .309 with 5 HRs and 12 RBIs going into the weekend. ... Al Martin was hitting .323 in 63 ABs for the Devil Rays. ... No surprise to see a Giles among the NL leaders. But Atlanta's Marcus? He is sixth in average (.344), sixth in runs (22) and 11th in on-base percentage (.415). As competitive as brothers are, think that's not helping brother Brian heal a little faster? ...

Are umpires looking over their shoulder? Larry Poncino issued a warning to both the Royals and Red Sox in the ninth inning Wednesday after Kansas City pitchers hit three Red Sox batters in the inning. Guess he figured the Royals always go headhunting while trying to hang onto a two-run lead in the ninth. ... Incredibly, Expos pitcher Zach Day allowed only two balls to be hit out of the infield in his three-hit, 5-0 shutout of Milwaukee Thursday. ... Suh-weeeeeng, batter! Going into Friday, Reds batters had struck out a major-league high 258 times, or 37 more than the second-place Cubs. ... And finally, a word from Mr. Obvious. Says Tigers Manager Alan Trammell: "We're not exactly where I'd like us to be." Their 3-23 record suggests he didn't have to mention that.

Shot and a jeer

Shot: Just wondering. The Pirates are paying Jason Kendall $8.57 million this season -- more than any player on the team -- yet he is not among the five players featured on their season tickets. Strange, don't you think?

Jeer: Thirty-two players per league for this year's All-Star game? Might as well just break out the watered-down beer, 98 percent fat free yogurt and Barbra Streisand records right now.


Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474.

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