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Finder on the Web: Not everyone cheering for the Pirates opening day

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

For five generations, Harts were raised in The Courts, the rowhouses along Burdock and Alcor. Nine houses stood shoulder to shoulder on one side, six on the other. Jack Hart, the late Steelers equipment manager, made the neighborhood a safe haven to his clan as well as any stray Steelers and Pirates from Three Rivers Stadium down General Robinson Street. Elaine Hart grew up inside the same 115 Burdock where her son, Michael, was born. Two sisters, a cousin and a grandmother lived on the block. "So there's a lot of history down there," she said.

Then progress arrived two and a half years ago.

A family tree was uprooted.

Their neighborhood became right field. Old Hart rowhouses were torn asunder to break ground for a prime part of the Pirates' new North Shore ballyard. PNC Park made its official debut Monday, and Elaine Hart watched the inaugural pregame theater from outside her Allegheny General Hospital workplace. She saw the parachutists and the balloons and the jets. She heard the din of the crowd. Then she went back to work, and the Pirates went to work using her lifelong homestead as their new home.

"I hope they win," she said in the early innings (of an eventual 8-2 Cincinnati victory) while sitting in her office in physicians referral, where she could still hear the crowd of 36,954 blocks away. "I really do hope they win. I have no animosity toward them. Just Mayor [Tom] Murphy."

On a beautiful day when Pittsburgh embraced its new ballpark, when corporate suits along with the politicians such as Mayor stepped forward to accept applause for their responsibility in creating this breathtaking place, the commonfolk who gave up far more than a patch of land were left to feel even more empty, even more undesirable. The senior citizens from the Three Rivers Plaza that was demolished next door to The Courts, they were welcomed to the March 31 exhibition opener. They were given tickets and transportation from their new home, the Allegheny, only two long blocks away.

But the people of The Courts? The Harts?

There is no bigger sacrifice than leaving not just familiar turf, but family turf, even if Murphy's City slicksters paid each of the residents: $10,000 for renters such as sister Pamela Hart Carmona at 106 Burdock, and estimated property value to Elaine Hart and the other homeowners.

"As far as I'm concerned," Elaine Hart said, "they didn't compensate us enough."

She isn't bitter. She is as diplomatic as can be expected from a displaced mother and grandmother, a woman with a fractured family life and the dread disease of cancer.

Her sister Pamela, now she is bitter. She remembers getting a telephone call from Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy in February 1999 after she was the last to leave what she called the best neighborhood in Pittsburgh. She remembers him reaching her at her workplace then, Honus Wagner Sporting Goods (of all Pirates-themed places), and offering a special day for all the residents and business people who yielded that patch for a Pirates future.

"The ballpark is open," she said, "and no Kevin McClatchy.

"I'm so sick and tired of hearing about this stadium. 'Oh, it's so beautiful.' Oh, really? Your life wasn't uprooted. This was our little community. You would leave your doors unlocked. You could walk in your pajamas over to your grandmother's. We miss our neighborhood."

They miss their togetherness. Grandmother Audrey Boyle used to work around the corner, on Federal Street. They all used to frequent Castellano's, which relocated nearby, and the beauty shop, which is long gone. They used to entertain guests of their father -- for 30 years a Steelers employee -- or the Rooney that they remember calling "Uncle Art."

Elaine Hart said, "I was so sorry to hear about Willie Stargell. He used to come by our house after games and have an iced tea."

Even Marlene Sprohar, who spent 55 of her 57 years in the same neighborhood, a relative interloper with her brother Henry Schnupp into Harts territory, recalls leaning out the front door to gab across the way at one Hart or another. She and her brother live a block from Allegheny General Hospital in an apartment. "No, I don't care how they do," Sprohar said of the Pirates. "And we're doing the best we can."

"Now, we're all scattered," said Elaine Hart, who resides in a Brighton Heights townhouse. "A cousin is in the North Hills. My one sister [Pamela] went to McKees Rocks. My other sister [Kathleen] went out by Channel 53 with my grandmother and my aunt [Patricia Boyle]. And my son's up in Spring Hill. And I hate to drive to work. I used to walk.

"That was the only place we lived. It's very strange being somewhere else. I feel like a visitor in my house. My home is underground now.

"That's progress. You have to live with that. ... But I miss my family."

This is what she lives with:

Hart found out shortly before moving that she has cancer.

Her job switched from her preferred nights to daylight hours.

Her close family scattered.

"It's no fun to have a life-threatening disease and not have your family around you. It's been little disasters after another since ... "

It's water under the Clemente Bridge. City officials didn't relocate them into one building, like the seniors from Three Rivers Plaza. The Harts didn't relocate themselves in one harmonious block. But at least somebody could remember them. Somebody could honor the sacrifice they laid down in baseball's ultimate squeeze play.

"If they said, 'We'd rebuild your home right where it was, would you move back?' I'd say 'Yes,' in a heartbeat," Elaine Hart said. "I'd rather have my floods and be where I used to be than where I am now."

Relatively Hart-less.

In addition to The Big Picture, Chuck Finder writes a general-sports column exclusive to the http://www.post-gazette.com/ every Tuesday. He can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com

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