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A grand slam for Hampton girl

Thursday, April 08, 1999

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

She may have disturbed the smallest amount of dirt with her ceremonial shovel, but she was a big part of history.

Kristin Klein was too dazzled to speak when she ran into her mother's arms following the gala groundbreaking ceremony last night for PNC Park. The light in her eyes, reflecting the fireworks booming over the Golden Triangle, spoke for her.

  Kristin Klein, last night's actual ground-breaker, shared the spotlight with, from left, PNC Bank CEO Tom O'Brien, Gov. Ridge, Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy, Mayor Murphy and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. (V.W.H. Campbell Jr., Post-Gazette)

A 9-year-old third-grader at Poff Elementary School in Hampton, she stood between Pirates Chief Executive Officer Kevin McClatchy and Mayor Murphy as she dug her shovel into the dirt and rock from which a new baseball park will emerge.

Wearing a hard hat atop her red-brimmed Pirates cap, she hefted a special shovel that had a black lacquer Louisville Slugger bat for a handle.

She was easy to spot with her ponytail, earrings, braces and eyeglasses, the only girl on the main stage that featured the governor, a U.S. senator, the CEO of PNC Bank, the mayor, two Allegheny County commissioners, a city councilman, the commissioner of baseball and the president of the National League.

A member of a fast-pitch softball team at her school and a soccer player, Kristin had earned her spot among the VIPs by winning an essay contest sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Asked in 25 words or less to say why she was happy PNC Park was being built, she wrote:

"My dad says PNC Park will be like going to Forbes Field when he was a kid, all the fun he had I'll have at PNC Park. My dad got to see Roberto Clemente play ball, and I know I'll see some great ball players, too. And I'll get dad to buy me some popcorn, too."

The daughter of a postal worker and a nurse, she arrived for the evening ceremonies shortly before 5 p.m., accompanied by her father, Jim, her mother, Linda, her grandmother, Betty Lavery, and a best friend from the neighborhood, 12-year-old Ashley Pastva.

Her father encouraged her to enter the contest.

"My mom said I might go down in the history books," said Kristin, a part of Pittsburgh's future who helped inaugurate a part of Pittsburgh's history.

"I think the ballpark will help the Pirates play better. I think the bigger the crowd, the better they play," she added before the ceremonies began.

Dressed in a Pirates jersey and holding a new Pirates jacket, Kristin fairly skipped toward the stage when the organizers called for her. Admittedly nervous, she said her biggest thrill was meeting McClatchy. And Gov. Ridge mentioned her by name in his speech when he said: "This is all about community."

Kristin also carried her laminated baseball card of Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, in whose name the Sixth Street Bridge was dedicated. An avid reader, she heard about Clemente last year in school and then read a biography of him. Her favorite current Pirates player is Kevin Young.

While she may have been part of the ultimate show-and-tell project for school, her proud parents noted that she may not know the significance of the moment until she looks back years from now.

"We were telling her how big a deal this is. She'll appreciate it even more when she gets older," said her mother, dressed in a Pirates T-shirt. "Little girls didn't have these kinds of opportunities when I was little."

Carrying the crumpled original essay in her pants pocket, Kristin was wide-eyed about the whole affair, especially when she was told she got to keep her ceremonial shovel. It will be specially engraved with her name in gold script, just like the shovels hoisted by the big shots.

But some things had to be explained.

"Do you know what PNC stands for?" she asked. Told that it was for Pittsburgh National Bank Corp., she nodded and said, "Oh, yeah."

Naming rights for new ballparks aren't normally part of a 9-year-old's world.

Kristin and other finalists were guests of the Pirates on opening night. But the batteries in her parents' camcorder were dead, so they had to rely on the family camera. Last night, they had plenty of fresh batteries to record the event, and their VCRs at home were programmed to tape the televised event.

Seated behind her parents in a VIP viewing section cordoned off in the makeshift bleacher seats were several Pirates players, coaches and their wives.

It was worth staying up late on a school night just for that.

Two other finalists who took part in the ceremony were Michael Scherbanic, 11, of Library, and Lindsay Ruhling, 11, of Elizabeth Township. They handed out the shovels to the VIPs.

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