Most of the players in the Heroes Game on June 9, 2012, at West Field in Munhall. Photo by Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
After the Heroes Game was snowed out in October 2011, Jim Krenn, Jim Kuzak and I resolved to do it right in 2012.
Jim Kuzak, a former Clairton police officer who was shot and left paralyzed responding to a home invasion, had plenty of hot dogs in the freezer and I had candy and doughnuts that S&S Candy and Franco Harris had donated for the 2011 game. I also had about 50 hats and uniforms with the names Lucky and Jimmy on them.
Rather than try to recoup what I spent on them — the game was a benefit for Jim Kuzak after all — I sought sponsors who would be dear to Lucky’s heart: United Steelworkers and US Steel. It wasn’t easy but with the support of Scott Buckiso of US Steel and Wayne Ranick of the USW, we added their logos to the sleeves and the US Steel logo on the caps.
I also got Tim Deily, whose family produces Isaly products, to donated chipped ham and barbecue sauce and Ray Laughlin, community leader for Walgreen’s, to donate Klondike bars, an Isaly’s favorite for most of Lucky’s life. The Pirates donated player-signed photos and balls to raffle, Penn Brewery gave us a half-keg of beer and Tony Knipling of Vecenie Distributing a quarter-keg of root beer. There were so many others who helped. Even the porta-johns were provided at no charge by Munhall Borough. Meanwhile, Jim Kuzak’s family and friends were collecting more food and raffle items. It seems like an awful lot of work in hindsight, but we wanted to honor Elijah and help Jim Kuzak.
The hardest part was finding ballplayers for the youth game. Steel Valley High School provided baseball and softball players but Clairton High School was a much harder sell. Most of its baseball players were also members of their state champion football team and weren’t eager to risk injury in a charity ballgame. In the end, the other team was a patchwork of players from Swissvale, Allerdice, Kiski and other high schools.
The celebrity softball teams included Pirates broadcaster and former pitcher Steve Blass, Post-Gazette colleagues Scott Mervis and Dan Gigler and Steel Valley and Clairton coaches. FBI agents and police and firefighters came from Pittsburgh, Homestead, Munhall, West Homestead and Clairton. Two city cops were the umpires.
It all came together on a sunny Saturday in May. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch. We had to find a DJ at the last minute and Jim Krenn broke his wrist trying to turn a double play with Steve Blass. But we had fun, raised some money for a great guy and honored Elijah as best we could.
There was one moment when I felt him close. I had asked his friend Leroy Gilliard to sing “Hallelujah ‘Tis Done,” Lucky’s favorite gospel song, the one Leroy sang at Elijah’s funeral service in October 2010. I had heard him sing before at Second Baptist Church so I wasn’t as surprised as most of the other spectators when he testified for a few minutes before he sang. It was probably as close as a ballgame ever came to a Baptist revival.
I could almost hear that wonderful little man in a ballcap clapping and shouting “Amen!” I believe, Brother Elijah. I believe.