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"As American as baseball and apple pie. . ."
It's no surprise that food and sports go hand in hand in defining the essence of Americana. Sporting events help define us as a culture by giving communities a reason to come together, a common team for which to cheer, a focal point filled with energy and the edge of competition. At its best, it's a positive, energy-charged experience. Of course, sports also could take on an edge of aggression, and whether one's leisure pursuit is Pee-Wee baseball or pro-team hockey, a healthy perspective is required to keep the focus on physical skill and mental strategy.
Pittsburgh has the designation of a "sports town," with "Steelermania," Pirate baseball fever, and Penguin ice-hockey excitement. But well before there was a Terrible Towel or Pirate Parrot, Pittsburgh was hard at work building its "sports town" reputation.
The "Alleghenies" made their debut as Pittsburgh's professional baseball team in 1876. They played games at Recreation Park where Allegheny West is located now and then in 1891 moved closer to the river to play at Exposition Park. Today the Pittsburgh Pirates play at Three Rivers Stadium although even that stadium, barely 30 years old, is being replaced by a new baseball stadium that will make its debut in the first years of the new Millennium.
Another Pittsburgh stadium, long since demolished, was deemed by many to be "The World's Greatest Ballpark." Until 1970, the center of Pittsburgh baseball, the home of both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Homestead Grays, was that much-loved structure in Oakland called Forbes Field. Forbes Field was built in just four months in the spring of 1909, in the Oakland region of Pittsburgh.
Forbes Field also hosted events such as circuses and concerts, even wrestling matches! For a short time the Pittsburgh Steelers played there too. But it was in summer that the ballpark gained its fame as the "Old Lady of Schenley Park." Situated in the middle of the Oakland community, long-time residents recall lots of enthusiasm and excitement radiating through the neighborhood on game day.
Of all the great games played there, probably the best-remembered is the final game of the 1960 World Series when Bill Mazeroski hit his famous home run, sealing the Pirates' victory. Ten years later, on June 28, 1970, the Pirates played a final doubleheader at Forbes Field although the wall marking Mazeroski's game-saving home-run still exists, bordering the University of Pittsburgh's law school building and an open-air parking lot.
And while other residents of the city enjoyed sporting events such as baseball and football games with the hometown teams, the Hill District responded to segregation in sports by starting their own teams. One Hill resident named Gus Greenlee built his own baseball field, named, appropriately enough, Greenlee Field. He started a baseball team called the Pittsburgh Crawfords (which along with the Homestead Grays,) carved a name for themselves in history as an important team in the Negro Baseball League. Hill District residents treated baseball games as major events, warranting their best outfits and the team players lived up to the honor by not only playing exciting baseball games but also treating the spectators to some showy extras as well!
Boxing was a popular sport in the Hill, too. It was the home to many Golden Gloves fights, and even the 1951 World Heavyweight Championship between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles. . . but Hill residents still favored their local boxers best!
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While baseball and boxing have a long tradition in this country, one can not overlook the rising popularity of the game of golf. Residents of Western Pennsylvania, in particular, have reason to celebrate the game, since Clarion County is home to the oldest golf course in continuous use in the United States! In 1887, a Scottish oil tycoon named Joseph Oil Fox brought the game to this country, earning him the title "the Father of Golf in America."
Although weightlifting doesn't hold quite the same national appeal as golf or baseball, Pennsylvania also claims the distinction of being home to the Weightlifting Hall of Fame. Just off Interstate 83, one can see a giant weightlifter announcing the location of York Barbell. Pennsylvania resident John Terpak was a two-time weightlifting champion and past Olympian, and his accomplishments are chronicled at the museum. Whether weightlifting is a hobby, or one just decides to visit the Hall of Fame as a novelty, it's an unusual and amusing roadside attraction.
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Pittsburgh History Series Teacher's Guide