By BILL TAMBURRINO
Most people take a vacation to get away from the grind of their everyday job: those who work in the big city like to go camping, those who live near the beach like to go to the mountains, those who live on dry land like to go on a cruise, those who eat too much meat go fishing.
Sports writers are a different breed. After 11 months of covering high school sports, reporting on the progress of Ramona High School graduates who have gone on to the next level, going to college athletic events, going to professional athletic events, covering youth sports, going to horse races, golfing, bowling, hiking and burning off 300 calories working out and replacing them with 1,500 calories of pasta, Mexican cuisine, libations and multiple desserts, I decided that I needed a vacation.
I started out the respite by attending the 10th and last Danny Fager Memorial Golf Tournament. It was the best ever. Danny’s friends and family had a dinner catered by La Cocina on Friday night and played the full contact golf tournament on Saturday. You are in high school for four years but you are a teammate for life. In Danny’s case the friendship goes on after life.
Honesty is always the best policy but it is not the policy used when scoring and playing in a Danny Fager golf tournament. One can buy a mulligan but why buy a mulligan when they are free and used liberally, the way Danny liked to play them. The scores were not important. Just getting together with Danny’s family, friends, coaches and teachers was great. The winner of the tournament was the golfer (a term used liberally at Danny Fager Golf Tournaments) having the most fun. It was officially a tie between all of the golfers there.
Instead of my annual excursion to Hawaii I decided on a more exotic location. After pondering the question of which locale to visit, I chose Pittsburgh, Penn.
I didn’t choose the Steel City just because at one time it was the City of Champions in the world of sports (Steelers, Pirates, Pitt, Penn State and Penguins all won championships during the 1970s.), or because it successfully changed from an industrial city to a leader in the medicine and computer industries. I chose it because my dad was a “Pittsburgh guy” and I have cousins who would put me up and pamper me.
Since my part of the family lived in California and the rest of the clan lived in a beautiful suburb of Pittsburgh called Clairton for about 65 years, we didn’t cross paths. Those 65 years were the best years in my cousins’ lives. Two years ago my brother and I took our wives to meet our long lost cousins. We had a great time and our cousins made the mistake of inviting us back.
Remember the article about what can you do in Ramona? Pittsburgh is different. On day 1 we had a family dinner with nothing but ethnic dishes and local wines and beers. On day 2 of my odyssey my cousins took me golfing. They score golf differently in Pittsburgh than we do in Ramona. They count every swing and assess penalties for lost balls. They don’t have “do-overs,” or mulligans. At Pittsburgh National Golf Course I found out why Pennsylvania means “Penn’s woods.” I hit every tree on the course and had to use my foot wedge to get a playable lie on 16 different holes. Lucky for me that my cousin Bernie brought an abacus to help me keep score.
I got a couple of free lessons from Camille and Zach Nanni. The most important lesson was don’t try to hit over a water hazard unless you want your ball washed and replaced. I had the worst score but I will not whine and blame it on the rented clubs that were better than my clubs.
The Pirates are coming out of a couple of lean decades. They have the best record in baseball now. When I got to the city where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio, they had the second best record in baseball and had a five game series with the No. 1 team, St. Louis Cardinals. My cousin Ronnie got great seats for the second game of the series and in that game the Pirates beat the Cards to take over first place in the Central Division of the National League. Unlike PETCO Park, about 99 percent of the fans were Pirate fans and 99 percent of them wore Pirate gear of some sort.
They don’t know the capacity of the PNC Park because they sell standing room tickets. It is the best park in the majors to watch a game. The seats are all close to the field and every seat has an unobstructed view of the field. The Pirates won the series and at press time still had the best record in the major leagues, thanks in no small part to the support that they received from the Tamburrino (spelled Tamborino in Pennsylvania), Nanni, and McLaughlin clan. The Pirates didn’t have any players suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. That is because they have health supplements they call Iron City, Rolling Rock and Yeungling, and the vendors bring them to your seat.
After a day of rest that ended up being a trip of Pittsburgh’s version of Little Italy and a lunch with my cousin Michael, my cousin Linda took us to Latrobe, Penn., the home of Arnold Palmer, Rolling Rock and St. Vincent College. The Steelers have their pre-season training camp at St. Vincent College. The facility is the kind they made movies about in the black and white era. The Bearcat campus has beautiful fields and stadium seating for the fans and in Western Pennsylvania where everybody is a Steeler fan.
Like PNC Park, St. Vincent’s football fields are fan friendly. The concessions are good and reasonable. There were no $8 drinks or $4 hot dogs. The prices were what one would expect at a 7-Eleven or Wienerschnitzel.
I did take my wife but the reason we went shopping on our last day was because Damon Baldwin wanted me to bring him a Steeler visor.
My cousin Ronnie took us to the airport and must have been in a hurry. He threw our luggage out of his station wagon and told us to visit again any time he was out of town. He was concerned that we would miss our 9 p.m. plane so he and his wife, Maryfaith, got us to the air port at 10 a.m. I have very thoughtful cousins.
We finished our vacation with a trip to PETCO Park to see the Padres play the Yankees. Our $45 tickets were just above the Goodyear blimp. In our section the fans were all wearing Yankee gear but most had to leave due to nosebleeds.
I am headed to the Sierras to recuperate from my relaxing vacation. I will get a lot of rest fishing because I never have to reel in any fish.
The Danny Fager Golf Tournament, golf, a Pirate game, a Steeler practice, a Padre game, fishing in the Sierras were a great way for a sportswriter to take off a couple of weeks.