The uniform was pale gray with blue pinstripes.
The pants had thick belt loops and elastic at the ankles. The shirt had five buttons and the words “Pennsylvania Champions” emblazoned across the chest. Here and there were tiny holes where the years had worn through the thick and hot wool fabric.
Seventy years it had been tucked away.
The uniform was last worn in the summer of 1952, when it and a dozen others like it outfitted the players who would bring glory to Monongahela.
The team at WQED and I are producing a documentary about the 1952 and 1954 Monongahela Little League and Pony League seasons, one of the most compelling stories ever told in the history of youth baseball. It’s the story of heartbreak and redemption.
To tell the story, we needed to reach back several generations, to recreate and film some moments on the baseball diamond, and for that we would dress a young ballplayer in an old uniform. Only a few of the uniforms are still around, time having plowed the rest of them under. But Shirley Fabin had saved the one her husband George had worn, and Pete Hoosac had kept the cap his dad, Pete Sr., had worn.
We met on the ballfield: four cameras, two photographers, several ball players, that vintage uniform and I. On the sidelines were Shirley and Pete, watching their heirloom treasures being put through the paces.
Imagine some kids playing dress-up with your great grandmother’s wedding gown. That’s how I felt as 11-year-old Kennedy Nash buttoned up the shirt and put his new Nike belt through the faded loops.
“We’ll try to keep the uniform clean,” I said.
“And no sliding,” I said as he walked to the mound. “That fabric’s older than I am, and more fragile.”
Filming is a tedious business, and our pitcher was a star in the role. As the photographers directed him to catch and toss, adjust his cap and pound his glove, I watched the uniform.
From behind the dugout came a man carrying a tall stack of pizza boxes –dinner for the team. I pictured that precious uniform smudged with tomato sauce.
“No pizza for the pitcher,” I shouted across the fence. “We’ll save some for when you’ve taken off the uniform.”
A producer’s job is to anticipate the pitfalls – in this case pizza stains on a family treasure.
And just then, I turned to see a player walking out to the mound. In his hand was half of a Twix candy bar. He was about to hand it to the pitcher. The same heat that was baking that wool uniform, was melting that chocolate.
I lurched out from behind the fence and sprinted across the infield as the pitcher put the last of the candy bar into his mouth.
“Show me your hand, please,” I said, hoping to intercept the chocolate before it was instinctively wiped across the shirt. The hand was clean. If it were not, I was prepared to use the tail of my own shirt.
In the days since Shirley so generously entrusted me with the uniform, I’d kept it safe – on a top shelf at home and safely on the seat next to me in the car. Now, I would return it safely to its owner. We’d averted a pizza or Twix accident.
And got really good footage. We’ll be working on the film through fall, and the documentary will premiere in October. Watch to learn the story of a remarkable group of baseball players – boys who played ball and won, way back when uniforms were gray with pinstripes and made of heavy wool.