Bound for Florida, I packed my “Hiya!” clothes.
I made vacation-long friends with Dave, Bill, Bob and Ralph. I had one-time conversations with dozens more men and women.
What are “Hiya!” clothes?
For me, they are my yellow-and-black Pittsburgh Steelers T-shirt, my black-and-yellow Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt, and my companion Pirates cap and hooded sweatshirt.
“How ‘bout dem Stillers?”
“Y’inz from da Burgh?”
Those comments, framed by smiles and outstretched hands, were near-daily occurrences during our sojourn in the panhandle of the Sunshine State.
Even people who had never been to Pennsylvania nodded in recognition when we said our stomping grounds of Brookville and DuBois are “about 80 miles northeast” of Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field or PNC Park.
I have some clothing labeled “Brookville” or “DuBois.” Most often, inquiries about those towns will be of the vague “What state is that in?” variety, the sentence-ending preposition being a common characteristic of casual chat despite frowns from grammar police.
But Pirates and Steelers gear provoke instant recognition.
Not all of it is open-arms friendly, of course. Diehard football fans of the Cincinnati Bungles, and both of the fans of the Cleveland Browns, speak through tightened lips about “Those Steelers” who regularly march over their beloved patsy teams. But the recognition is instantaneous, as is the urge to comment, to say something.
Reaction to the Pirates is more benign. The baseball Bucs are not that far removed from two full decades of losing seasons. Their playoff appearances have been one-and-done affairs in recent years, so the Pirates are not cast as villains who have deprived National League Central Division rivals of their pursuit of World Series glory.
Since Florida’s wintertime population consists of many white-haired senior citizens, references past glory days and to “Willie” (Stargell) and “The Great One” (Roberto Clemente) are easily made. They lead to friendly chitchat.
By contrast, the one New York Yankees T-shirt I brought with me hung unworn in my closet.
The Yankees probably have more fans than any other baseball team – and more haters. That, too, is understandable, because en route to their 27 World Championships, the Yankees have frequently crushed rivals such as the Boston Red Snots. (Oh, yes! “Red Snots” is politically incorrect! But there is an exemption for sports fans. Why else did I hear fans of the Red Sox make snide references to the “Hankies” or “Spankies”?)
The Yankees T-shirt can provoke arguments as well as conversations.
So does the wearing of gear touting the Dallas Cowboys, hyped as “America’s Team” before the ascendancy of the New England Patriots under the tutelage of Coach Bill Bellicheat. (Oh, yes! Another exemption from political correctness, accepted in light of the Patriots’ tendencies to deflate footballs and spy on rivals.)
But nobody detests the baseball Pirates, an enthusiastic group of younger players always, it seems, just a year or two away from top-caliber success.
The Steelers? Some make claims of too-aggressive play, but by and large, the football Steelers command respect as a hard-nosed team worthy of Pittsburgh’s “Steel City” reputation.
So when I go on vacation, be it to Florida in the winter or to the beaches of New Jersey or the Carolinas in the summer, I bring Pirates or Steelers T-shirts or caps.
I do not don gear reflective of hockey’s Pittsburgh Penguins, even though the Pens have been among the National Hockey League’s most successful teams in recent years.
When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, the Penguins did not exist. Hockey, except for Boston, was largely a Canadian sport. So I never identified with hockey enough to be able to talk about it with any credibility.
With baseball, my favorite sport, I can chat about my favorites, the Pirates and Yankees, and also acknowledge the star qualities of players for the Braves, the Cardinals, the Orioles and the Tigers. (The BoSnots? Hah. See above.)
I am less immersed in pro football, especially in recent years. That game has become, in my view, a pass-happy sissified version of the grind-’em-out years of Harris and Bleier, of John Henry Johnson, even of the awe-inspiring Jim Brown of Cleveland fame. But I still watch the highlights of weekend games, and glean enough from my morning newspaper and website reading to keep abreast of who is winning and why.
Those black-and-yellow T-shirts lead to enjoyable conversations over a beer or on a beach in Florida, the Carolinas or wherever.
The talks remind me that, wherever we are from, most Americans are friendly people who love our country and enjoy our sports teams.
So I take my team gear with me, sure in the knowledge that I’ll have people to talk to and things to talk about, prepositions or no.
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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org