Ex-Housatonic Baseball Star Honored By Pirates
Copyright Register-Citizen April 15,2006 Peter Wallace
The Pittsburgh Pirates honored Canaan native Steve Blass for “50 years of involvement” with the organization at their home opener Monday evening.
Guess who sat front and center at PNC Park as part of the celebration?
“I thought it was a classy move by the organization to fly up my high school coach, Ed Kirby, and his wife Mary,” said Blass, 66, in a phone conversation Tuesday evening.
Given his life-long connection with an exceptional high school coach, who’s surprised that the last National League pitcher to date to pitch a complete World Series Game 7 (1971) would stick with the same organization for half a century?
“I could not have been better prepared for professional baseball than I was by Ed, coming out of high school,” said Blass, who documents Kirby’s credentials before his own: seven kids in Kirby’s program signed by professional scouts, three — Blass, John Lamb and Tom Parsons — completing the trip to the majors before Kirby, 81, moved on to stops as Housatonic’s principal, Region I superintendent of schools, geologist and author of a book on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and commissioner of the Tri-State Baseball League.
No wonder he put magic in Housatonic baseball.
“I had to wait for Art Lamb (a year ahead of me) to graduate before I got many innings,” said Blass, who graduated in 1960. “He was probably the best pitcher of us all, but he blew out his arm after he signed.”
“When I was 18, I dreamed of pitching in the World Series.”
The history of Kirby’s program proved the dream was attainable.
As a senior, Blass pitched a game in Torrington attended by 15 major league scouts.
“I had 15 walks and 15 strikeouts,” Blass laughed. “Fifteen must have been the magic number.”
He was a Cleveland Indians fan as a kid; the Indians offered him $2,500; the Pirates came through with $24,000.
“There was no decision,” said Blass, who doesn’t begrudge the mega-money he might have earned with his pitching talent 50 years later.
“The economics jade people’s perception,” he continued, “but once they play the anthem, it’s the same game. Baseball is a heritage that’s embedded deep in our country, and deep in me.”
When his pitching career ended in 1974, Blass stayed involved with the Pirates with appearances and clinics, then signed up to broadcast Pirate games on radio and TV in 1983. He’s still doing it.
That, too, can be painful, considering the Pirates’ woes in this era.
“They’ve had 16 straight losing seasons,” Blass said. “I hate it; it’s not fun. But you keep a perspective. They’ve been good to me all these years, and I certainly won’t bail out on them.”
Nor has he ever come close to bailing on Connecticut’s Northwest Corner. Relatives, including his mom and two brothers, live in the area; there’s a Steve Blass Little League field in Canaan.
In his several visits back each year, a third annual charity golf tournament comes up this fall to benefit Region I and Steve Blass Little League.
“I’m proof that dreams can come true,” Blass smiles.
Fifty-years-and-counting proves the dream doesn’t have to end.