I believe I was destined to meet Elijah “Lucky” Miller.
I became fascinated with Pittsburgh’s Negro League teams in 2005, while producing throwback uniforms for a youth baseball game on the site of old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. On the weekend before Pittsburgh hosted the 2006 MLB All-Star Game, a historic plaque honoring Forbes Field was unveiled and kids wearing Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords uniforms defeated other locals wearing 1940s Pittsburgh Pirates uniforms.
That day, someone mentioned that a man who was a batboy for the Grays appeared on a documentary called “Something to Cheer About” at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, part of the Heinz History Center in the Strip District. Lucky had only one line, about why Cool Papa Bell was so fast, but it was enough for me. I asked museum officials who had made the documentary and ended up talking to Peter Argentine, who had created it with his son, Per, and Rob Ruck, a University of Pittsburgh professor and author of the best book on Pittsburgh’s Negro League teams, “Sandlot Seasons.” Peter said the clip came from a longer interview with Lucky and offered to send me a DVD.
About the same time, I received a note from a friend of Ruth and Joe Hines, saying her father, who was about to turn 100, had been a Grays batboy. He asked if I could include him in Century Club, a column I write for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about centenarians. Now how many 99-year-old Grays batboys could there be?
I called Joe and arranged to meet Elijah Miller at the home of his son, Billy, in West Mifflin. If he felt up to it, we would drive over to West Field in Munhall, a full-sized stadium built in the late 1930s or early ’40s. Sandlot and industrial teams, most all black or white, played other teams from Pittsburgh and the Monongahela Valley at West Field. The Grays got their start in the early 1900s as a black steelworkers team.
That day with Lucky turned out to be one of the best days of my life.