JULY 12, 1997: THE NO-HITTER

I’ve mentioned before that I used to work for the Pirates part-time during high-school and college. Although it helped me develop a bad taste for the organization (their cheapness and ineptitude wasn’t confined just to the product on the field), there were some memorable moments. One of which was the combined no-hitter in 1997 for Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon. The only significant moment in the last 20 years and the Pirates even FUCKED THAT UP because they couldn’t score any runs for Cordova to get the complete game no-hitter. They finally won it with a homer in the 10th from some guy who nobody cares about anymore and is probably dead. (It was actually Mark Smith who is alive and well according to Wikipedia.)

That night I managed to be the lucky Pirate’s employee to work the K-Mart K-Club. For anyone unfamiliar, anytime a Pirates pitcher threw a strikeout during the game, a large “K” would be placed on display in the stadium to keep track of them. It was unofficial, just something for the fans to look at that could also generate money from another sponsor. I think they still have it at PNC Park but now it is sponsored by Kennametal or KDKA or K-Y Jelly or something. The employee working the K-Club would just sit in the outfield watching the games and put up a “K” as appropriate. Fun fact—we couldn’t put up three K’s in a row because that was frowned upon. We would have to put up two, then a blank space for the third (K K _ K). If they got a fourth strikeout (rare) then you would fill in the blank because four K’s in a row was deemed harmless even though those are the initials for the Kentucky branch of the Klan.

Anytime I told someone that I worked the K-CLub (and got paid) they always thought it was the best job ever. That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially in those days at Three Rivers Stadium. First off, it was minimum wage. Second, the Pirates sucked so it was awful having to sit through a game in its entirety. (I would say that they couldn’t pay me to watch a game, but they did and I obliged like a SHAMELESS WHORE.) I am not insinuating that it is as bad as changing bed pans in a hospital or anything like that, but it was not as fun a job as it would seem because of how bad the team was. This was before everybody had cell phones and the upper deck of the outfield was closed to fans most games so you were isolated and lonely and bored out of your skull with nothing to do but watch a shitty four hour baseball game. (Think ‘The Shining’.) Plus you couldn’t drink beer. Do you know how insufferable baseball is without beer? MAKES ME SHUDDER WHEN I THINK BACK.

You also had to pay attention to the game (at least when the other team was up) so you could keep up with the strikeouts. Thank goodness for the scoreboard replays because most times my daydreams would be interrupted by clapping from the few fans that were there and I would realize the Pirates just got an out but not know if there was a strikeout or groundout or what. (If you missed a strikeout then they would have to send another employee up to tell you that you were an asshole and then you would never get to work K-Club again. We had one girl once who put a “K” up for every out. It was like 3 innings before anyone noticed.) There were also those times where I would run all the way down to the concession stand on the first level behind home plate to buy an ice cream cone only to realize that they just struck someone out while I was still in line, so I would have to forgo the sweet delicious ice cream and run all the way back up to the 5th level to put up another “K” before anyone realized that I was gone. (Unbelievably the large concessions stand behind home plate was the only one where you could get an ice cream cone back then. THE OLD DAYS!) The K’s were sheets of heavy plastic and were about 3’ by 4’. There were times when I would lay a few of them down on the ground in front of my seats and then lay down and take a nap during the bottom halves of the innings. It wasn’t the least bit comfortable but I had to make do. Sometimes I would wake up in terror after sleeping through the top half of an inning having no idea if there were any strikeouts that were missed. I was a really shitty employee.

The no-hitter on July 12, 1997 against the Houston Astros was different. It was a fireworks night, so there were about 44,000 in attendance. It was a sellout, but that was after they had started putting a tarp over half of the upper deck seats to reduce the capacity for baseball games. The 5th level outfield seats were open—and packed—so I was sitting among fans as I “worked” the K-Club. When the fans up there first learned they were sitting in the K-Club section, they were pretty excited—and they cheered wildly for every strikeout as I hung a “K”. Cordova had five strikeouts through the first three innings, so right from the start there was reason to cheer. I even started to play it up a little—holding the “K” up over my head as they screamed. Then we started a system where the fan closest to the pile of K’s would pick one up and pass it down the row to me—each fan going nuts as they had the chance to handle it. It got to the point where excitement built with every pitch Cordova threw—all of us hoping for another strikeout.

The middle innings saw four more Cordova strikeouts and around that point we all started to be cognizant of the no-hitter. The excitement intensified even further. There were two drunken fans—friends that came to the game together—that were the loudest and most enthusiastic and they both asked if they could actually hang a “K”. I knew it would probably violate some stadium policy but I gladly let them—and they each took a turn sliding the “K” into the brackets that displayed them along the rail of our section. They looked like they couldn’t have been more excited if I had let them bat for the team. When telling the story to fellow employees after the game, they pointed out that if either fan would have dropped a “K” (either intentionally or accidentally) it would have possibly disrupted the game as the hard plastic sheet landed into the field of play or even worse—DECAPITATED a fan if it had dropped into the stands 100 feet below. There was also the slight chance that in their inebriated state they could have toppled over the rail as they leaned over to fasten the “K” in place. None of these scenarios had occurred to me as I let these drunks fuck around. (Not sure if it would be physically possible to decapitate a fan with one of those things—but that would have been a really shitty way to die. ESPN would warn us how graphic the footage was before they showed it 900 times. Then someone would make a hilarious animated GIF.)

Cordova finished the game with 10 strikeouts and Rincon added one more in the 10th. I don’t remember if we booed when manager Gene Lamont pulled Cordova, but we should have. Fuck him. I realize that he was trying to win a game—but there are ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-TWO GAMES A SEASON. Who gives a fuck if they would have lost that one game in July trying to let Cordova finish his no-hitter! For me, having Rincon pitch in the 10th was an incredible letdown—but the place did erupt in the bottom of the inning when Mark Smith hit his home-run. Then the fireworks show—the place got even louder. A great day in Pittsburgh sports, even if I did have to sit through a Pirates game.

 

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  1. I felt the same way those drunks did, when back a couple years ago, I got to see the guys put up that “You’re in Steelers Country” banner in the closed endzone. When they let me help tie off one of the corners, I thought I died and went to Steeler heaven.

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