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Blass’ lifelong run with franchise he loves celebrated in style ☕


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Karen and Steve Blass share a laugh during the pregame ceremony Saturday night at PNC Park. - AP

The Pirates fell short on Steve Blass day Saturday at PNC Park, losing to the Reds, 4-2, in 12 innings.

Still, Blass has a new favorite baseball movie. Yes, The Natural and Field of Dreams are classics, but they might not compare to Sep. 27, 2019.

Blass' final televised broadcast that day was filled with trips down memory lane, personalized messages and thank-yous. To end it, Kevin Newman became the leading man in Blass' movie, hitting a two-out, come-from-behind home run.

“It’s a wonderful script, isn’t it?" Blass told me over the phone on Saturday morning.

After the game, there was a celebration in the Pirates' clubhouse, but when AT&T SportsNet started to play a tribute video for Blass' career, they stopped and gathered in front of a TV to watch.

Even though the team largely consists of young players and newcomers, most of whom have known Blass for only long enough to barely register as a blip on the radar of his 60 years with the Pirates, they knew the significance of the man and what he has meant to Pittsburgh Pirates baseball.

“You take a step back and really realize what he’s done," Newman was telling me at his locker. "To put 60 years of your life towards an organization, to do what he’s done for so long with so much class, such excitement, such positivity. The way he affected the city. It really makes you realize and appreciate what he’s meant.”

The movie game was on Friday. Saturday, Sept. 28, however, was decreed "Steve Blass Day" by the city of Pittsburgh. During a pregame, on-field ceremony in Blass' honor, his longtime broadcast partner Greg Brown announced the Pirates were establishing a team Hall of Fame and that Blass would be part of the inaugural class.

Not bad for a kid from Canaan, Conn., who knew very little about Pittsburgh.

The journey began on June 27, 1960, when Pirate scout Bob Whalen offered him $4,000 and a promise to start him in the minor leagues immediately to sign out of high school. As the years passed, there were complete games in the World Series, an All-Star appearance and being patient zero for "Steve Blass Disease."

On Sunday, it will come to a close, with Blass concluding his 34 seasons as a color commentator with a radio broadcast on 93.7 The Fan.

He is not doing it because he has to. Anyone who saw him hanging onto the "main yard" during his call of Newman's home run could see he still has the passion, the energy and the ability to do his job. However, at 77, he is ready for the next chapter and will transition to an ambassador role in 2020.

And while the number of years of service Blass put into the job was what has been recognized during his final days on the job, it was the quality of his work that made him an integral part of those countless summer nights.

“He’s a really outstanding broadcaster," Brown was telling me. "That’s the thing I hope doesn’t get lost in all of this.”

Brown refers to Blass as a "renaissance man." Well-read. Sharp. Quick-witted. Has a vast mental vocabulary.

And that vocabulary is a source of pride for Blass. He attributes it to being a "voracious reader," and it made him a better broadcaster.

“The color guy should have the ability, the vocabulary, to get in and out," Blass said. "Make your point quick and then not intrude on the game.”

Blass was not intrusive, but rather welcoming and relatable. That was what immediately stuck out about him to his other current broadcast partner, Joe Block.

“How many of us can relate to somebody who was on the mound for Game 7 of the World Series and won it? But yet, he is," Block said. "He’s just one of us.”

Blass was still playing when he started to think about making the jump to broadcasting. When he was demoted to Triple-A Charleston, W. Va., in 1974, he started trying to think out play-by-play while watching games from the dugout. He could not do it.

However, after he was removed from games, he would go up to the booth to talk with young broadcaster Lanny Frattare. There, he found the rhythm of performing with a headset on.

“Without even knowing it, I was doing some color commentary," Blass said. “... That was the foundation of me getting started.”

Frattare, now a professor at Waynesburg University, stresses to his students a cardinal rule of broadcasting: Be yourself. That is what Blass does best.

“Steve is, on the air, who he is," Frattare told me. "He’s a very gregarious guy. He’s a very fun-loving individual. He loves telling stories. He loves to laugh. He loves to make people laugh.”

That love of making people laugh came from his father, Bob Blass. Steve said he used to roll his eyes at his dad for doing that, but he eventually became his father.

"There's nothing better, in my mind, than putting someone at ease and telling a story and making them smile," Blass said.

And for 34 years, Blass has shared stories, even though he claimed to only have seven, and laughs with Pirate listeners through good times and bad.

On Saturday, he opened his speech with, "There's nothing better than knowing there are people that care about you." As the rain picked up, he cut his remarks short and ended it with by telling the crowd, "I love all of you. You own my heart."

The feeling was mutual.

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