Buice column: Many moons ago: This year marks anniversary of Apollo 11 voyage, Pirates’ World Series title

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 25, 2019

It ranks as one of the most famous quotes of all-time, and Neil Armstrong’s words still resonate a half-century after he became the first man to walk on the moon: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Wow. That was July 20, 1969, a day that many call the single most significant historical event in modern times.

It’s hard to argue with that and equally hard to believe it’s been 50 years since it happened.

Maybe it’s my own advancing age, but it seems like these kinds of occasions surface more often as the years pass.

Actually, I was in Pittsburgh last weekend to celebrate another milestone — the 40-year anniversary of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates winning their last World Series. Significant for me and many supporters of the Pirates, but certainly not the overall magnitude of walking on the moon for the first time.

However, it was noteworthy when the team, which was led by slugger Willie Stargell and personified the Sister Sledge hit, “We Are Family,” gathered for the special reunion.

I had made plans to make the trip for months, not even thinking about it being on the same weekend that the country remembered the historical date of the moon landing.

Ironically, I was staying just outside of Pittsburgh right next to the township of Moon. You can’t make this stuff up.

And I was thrilled after planning a visit to the Heinz History Center to learn that the museum was featuring an exhibit in the “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation” area along with showing a special screening on Saturday of the new Smithsonian Channel documentary film, “The Day We Walked On The Moon.”

It described in great detail the 24 hours leading up to the first steps being taken on the moon and was told by those who witnessed it.

The list included Michael Collins, the third member of the Apollo 11 mission and the one who didn’t walk on the moon, flight director Gene Kranz, and the children of Armstrong and fellow moon walker Buzz Aldrin.

Adding a different twist was the appearance of pop culture notables Brian May, Queen guitarist and doctor of astrophysics, and Brian Cox, professor of physics, giving their takes on where they were and what they felt that day.

Following the screening, there was a short Q&A where members of the audience shared their memories and a museum curator commented on Pittsburgh’s contributions to the moon landing — Alcoa (which supplied materials for the door where the astronauts came out of the Eagle) and Westinghouse (which provided the camera that provided the historic images).

The township of Moon had to be a part of the day’s festivities when it hosted an all-day celebration featuring a reenactment in which an “astronaut” parachuted from a helicopter and landed in the “Sea of Tranquility,” which is the town park.

Of course, I missed that since I was in the city touring the museum and later going to the ballgame.

You know, as exciting as it was 50 years ago when Apollo 11 made the world a bigger place, the voyages to the lunar surface have long since come to an end as space exploration no longer remains the national focus it once was.

But there’s no denying the thrill of getting there — landing on and walking on the moon for the first time. It was nice to relive that unbelievable moment again after all these years.

And as wonderful as it was to be there and see the ‘Family’ back together again along the third-base line for a baseball reunion, it was a also time for reflection on how Father Time marches on.

As a story in the local Post-Gazette pointed out, if life were a ballgame, most of the 1979 Pirates would be nearing the seventh-inning stretch.

Some, including Stargell, have been lost along the way, and two other former stars — outfielder Dave Parker (Parkinson’s disease) and reliever Kent Tekulve (heart transplant) — have endured major struggles.

But still, even if they never win another World Series in my lifetime, nothing can ever take away those precious memories from 1979, and also winning championships in 1960 (in Game 7 on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer to beat the Yankees) and 1971 (when Roberto Clemente showed the world how great of a player he was).

It’s all there in the history books.