John Wray is one of Pittsburgh’s most dedicated baseball fans and today, he’ll be at the Pirates home opener—for the 54th consecutive year.
Wray was born in Wilkinsburg in 1951 before moving to the Regent Square home he still lives in today at the age of 5. One year later, he attended opening day of the 1958 season at Forbes Field. He hasn’t missed an opener since.
“It’s an event for me now,” Wray said. “I get really excited at games. It really makes it a fun occasion.”
Wray’s status as a lifelong Pirates fan was cemented in his early teenage years when his older sister became friendly with Roberto Clemente after a chance meeting outside of Forbes Field. Before long, Wray found himself with a future Hall of Fame player in his living room—and he didn’t miss an opportunity to make some history of his own.
“I’m one of the only people to strike him out on three pitches,” Wray jokes. “I had one of those little toy bats and a ping-pong ball. Clemente was throwing it to his son out in the dining room and he wasn’t hitting it. He said, ‘John, you throw the ball to me and I’ll show him how to do it.’ I gave him three dipsy-doodles, and he took three cuts, and I rang him up. And, as an obnoxious 14-year-old, I said, ‘Let’s get somebody in here who can hit the ball.’”
Wray is ready to talk Pirates baseball at every turn and he's never been far from the game. After graduating from Penn State University, he spent six weeks at the former Al Somers School for Umpiring in Daytona Beach, Florida, and he continued to umpire and coach for youth baseball until recently.
Wray enjoys the attention his streak has brought him. He was selected by the Pirates to deliver the game’s lineup card before the 2007 opener in honor of his 50th consecutive game. He’s also glad to point out that his love of baseball is a family affair—after all, his wife Holly doesn’t have much of a choice. Her birthday is today.
“I think this is the 11th or 12th time her birthday has actually fallen on the opener,” he said. “She has a shorter streak of her own going and my son John does, too. Although, I made sure he was 7 years old before I took him to a home opener. I didn’t want to give him an opportunity to break my streak."
His oldest son, John IV, is turning 30 this year, and the two dedicated fans will travel to Denver to take in a Pirates road game against Colorado to mark the occasion.
After half a century and then some, the games have begun to blur together. He cites the emotional opening day after Clemente’s untimely death on the last day of 1972 as particularly memorable; he also cites an ominous opener at Three Rivers Stadium as striking.
“On opening day of 1993, they reeled up the National League East Division pennant and I was sitting in the upper deck thinking, ‘It’s going to be a long time before we see this again,'" he said.
Though John is yet to see another banner raised, he’s encouraged by the Pirates 4-2 start and strong play from the likes of Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. More importantly than the final score, though, is the chance to be at the ballpark yet again.
“There’s just something about a baseball environment," he said. "I think it’s terrific. I can make friends very easily at baseball games.”
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