Pirates' McKechnie Field gets special visitor
Carol Montgomery to throw out first pitch at park named for dad
BRADENTON, Fla. -- To longtime Pirates fans, "The Deacon" is Vernon Law, the right-hander whose Cy Young Award 1960 campaign helped define the upstart Bucs' World Series season.But even older fans, or just baseball historians, know Law was not Pittsburgh's original baseball Deacon. That distinction belonged to Bill McKechnie, who was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg, managed the Pirates to the 1925 World Series title -- and was an actual deacon, of the United Methodist Church. Thus McKechnie eminently deserved the Deacon moniker, just as Carol McKechnie Montgomery could unambiguously title her memoirs of growing up as a baseball child, "The Deacon's Daughter." The field that has been the Pirates' Spring Training home since 1969 bears her father's name, but Carol has seldom visited the park, and always clandestinely. That will change Saturday, when she will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Pirates' Grapefruit League home finale against the Orioles, taking a public bow for the first time in a Spring Training cathedral that keeps her father's memory alive.
"Dad knew they named the field after him. He was still alive [McKechnie passed away in 1965 at 79] and he was absolutely thrilled," Carol said. "His funeral procession, from the church to the cemetery, went right past McKechnie Field."The McKechnie family by then resided in Bradenton, having moved to the southwest Florida community long before. That was the inspiration for the field to bear his name -- not any connection to the Pirates, who were merely the first of the four Major League teams he managed, two of which he led to World Series titles (1925 Pirates and '40 Reds) and another to a National League pennant ('28 Cardinals), and who were still seven years from moving in when Braves Field was renamed McKechnie Field in 1962. "I was never close to the Pirates," said Carol, who was the youngest, by 18 years, of the three McKechnie kids and was born long after her dad had moved on to other teams. "Occasionally I'd go to their games, but it was always on the visitors' side. Dad was managing the Reds and the Braves, so those were the teams I was more familiar with, and the Pirates were the adversary." After delivering Saturday's first pitch, Carol will be signing copies of "The Deacon's Daughter," an anecdotal biography she admitted has taken literally a lifetime to co-author, and even then she had to be talked into doing it. The stories of growing up in a baseball culture have been on her mind and lips, shared with family and friends, forever. Her reflexive resistance to constant urging to find the discipline to commit them to paper finally gave way when she met Jerry Hanks, who happened to be a professional co-biographer. "I'd been quite busy all my life, raising four sons and teaching fifth grade," said Carol, who has 15 grandkids and eight great-grandchildren. "My husband kept saying, 'You should put down all these stories, your own kids don't know half this stuff.' My students knew the baseball connection and kept bugging me. My friends would get on me about doing a book. "So I finally relented -- mainly to keep all these people quiet -- and to let my kids know what my life was like." There was one other incentive. Carol's first husband of 50 years, Don Matchett, passed away in 2003 from Huntington's Disease. One of Carol's sons has already been diagnosed to have it, and she realizes the genetic condition could be lurking in her other sons, too. So in addition to motivation to write a book, she also had a cause. Proceeds from sale of "The Deacon's Daughter" go toward supporting Huntington's Disease research. "They are working hard to find some cure, and if this little bit helps, I'll be happy," Carol said.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.