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Three Rivers -- Good riddance

by Todd Spangler

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PITTSBURGH -- Don't expect Hank Novak to get teary-eyed about Three Rivers Stadium. After 30 years of working here, he has never cared for the place.

"At Forbes Field there was atmosphere -- the smoke from the trains," said Novak, 76, who has worked as a parking attendant outside Three Rivers Stadium since it replaced the Pirates previous home in 1970. "There's no atmosphere in this thing. You're in a bowl."

Novak's feelings aside, nostalgia was the mood Sunday as the Pirates played their last game in a ballpark that went up in the era of Skylab.

The Steelers will play out the rest of the NFL schedule at Three Rivers, but, for baseball, this homestand against the Cubs was the end. A record regular-season crowd of 55,351 saw the Pirates fall to Chicago 10-9.

The Pirates will move into PNC Park next season -- a 38,300-seat stadium with grass.

Former Pirates greats stood outside Gate A, signing autographs and posing for pictures as fans crowded around them. Andy Van Slyke waved at passers-by; former manager Jim Leyland smiled at kids who timidly handed him their programs to sign.

Sister Sledge -- whose "We Are Family" was adopted as the team's anthem during the 1979 world championship run -- sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Dock Ellis threw the first pitch to Manny Sanguillen, reprising the opening day battery from the first game 30 years ago.

In Lot B, four generations of the Dearer family were having a celebration of their own. Thomas M. Dearer, 81, sat with his son, grandson and great-grandson, 9-year-old Michael Denne.

For 38-year old Thomas J. Dearer, the final game at Three Rivers was a way to link the family together, a matter of particular importance to him since his dad is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

"We figured this is a way to build a memory for his great grandson," he said. "Me, I can remember when I came across the Fort Duquesne Bridge and I saw it (the stadium). It was like a coliseum. All of my memories of the Pirates and baseball are of this place."

And there were lots of memories -- two world championships, Willie "Pops" Stargell and Roberto Clemente's 3,000th hit.

For 79-year-old Ray Clougherity, an usher who has been working sections 25 and 26 for three decades, the best memory is of Clemente's hit. "Right through second base, an easy double," he said.

Clougherity was playing baseball at Duquesne University 62 years ago when his coach asked him if he wanted a summer job. He's been doing it ever since -- first at Forbes Field, now here.

"I didn't know what I was getting into," he laughed.

The younger fans were even more sentimental about Three Rivers.

"I don't know Forbes Field," said 26-year-old George Herbert, wearing a wide smile after meeting Leyland.

"This is all I know of Pirates baseball. It's going to be strange."

There were others, though, who were glad to be on hand to see the end of the stadium, and not just for reasons of nostalgia

"Baseball should be played on grass. Grass and dirt," said Rich Clancy, 47, of Pittsburgh. "I can't complain, though. There's been some good teams in this stadium."

"But it's never been a baseball stadium," said his friend, Tom Crossey, 47. "It was always a football stadium first."

One person who disagreed with that assessment was Pirates catcher Jason Kendall, who said Three Rivers has always been good to him.

"I'm probably one of the very few people who like this place," Kendall said.

That being said, Kendall's hoping the move to PNC Park will energize a team that was 69-92 going into the last game.

Dayna Ceresa, 29, didn't care about any of that

Ceresa was gathering a little personal history here, and it didn't matter that she was attending only her third baseball game at Three Rivers. After all, she's heard all the stories from the folks who were there when they closed Forbes Field.

"That's what it's like to me," Ceresa said. "I can say I went to the last game at Three Rivers."

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