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A Gift From Africa
GARY SMITH
August 10, 2009
Word came down from above: Make the kid feel at home. Sure, said the clubbie ... but the clubbie always said sure. He bled Bucco black-and-gold, Pat Hagerty's superiors raved in reviews of his work as the Pirates' minor league clubhouse and equipment manager. He was master of a million chores, the guy who kept the radar guns juiced, the resin bags dry, the coaches' coffee hot, the lint out of the players' jocks and the alligators out of the pond at the team's complex in Bradenton, Fla. • But then he paused and pondered: How the hell does a white-haired 48-year-old Irish Catholic clubbie from Steubenville, Ohio, make an 18-year-old Sotho tribesman from Africa feel at home?
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August 10, 2009

A Gift From Africa

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"How we gonna get it on the plane today?"

"We? I'm not going anywhere."

"You wouldn't cope in Limpopo, Patty. It's a two-hour walk to collect the donkeys and cows. You can't walk that far. There are pythons there. Cobras, Patty." He drapes both hands over Pat's shoulders and jabbers at him in Sotho.

Pat smacks him in the gut. "You can clean the clubhouse toilets," he suggests.

"I left home so I wouldn't have to clean clubhouse toilets," says Gift. He drifts into Pat's office and stares at the number 9 jersey framed above Pat's chair, a gift from Bill Mazeroski, the one Pirate whom Gift has to get straight, the guy who grew up a few miles from Pat in Steubenville, the one who goes out with Pat for steaks and beers when he visits Bradenton, the legend who beat the Yankees in 1960 with the only ninth-inning, Game 7--winning home run in World Series history.

Gift's eyes light up as he hears the tale. He grabs a black bat perched against Pat's office wall. "Pirates have the bases loaded!" he announces. "One down in the ninth inning of the World Series! Gift coming to bat!"

"That's a little fast," says Pat, "considering you're still in diapers."

Gift ignores him. Gift swings. "Bang! It's out of here! Gift wins it! Pirates win the World Series! Again! Two thousand twelve!"

He takes two slow-motion steps and touches a spot on the wall: first base. He taps the corner of Pat's desk: second. He heads for the chair—third—eyes sparkling, eyes searching.... Who knows what might be home?

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