A tribute to a great Pittsburgh sports fan, now departed


It seems weird to write, but one of the first thoughts I had when my grandmother died last Thursday was that she had enough of watching the Pirates.

I felt a little better about that somewhat callous notion when I told my wife. She confessed to thinking the same thing, if only to generate a bit of levity in a difficult time.

That we would even think about something like that is a tribute to Bea Lisheski and how much she cared about the black and gold. My mom’s mom was always all in on the Pirates, Penguins and Steelers, even in the past year when she suffered the sad injustice of a disobedient body.

Since she passed away at 90 last Thursday, one day after her Pirates finished their 20th losing season in a row, I have reminisced about how a shared love for our favorite teams helped us overcome a 63-year age gap.

Most memorably, whenever Nanny was feeling up to it, most exciting Pittsburgh wins (and some losses) would be

followed by a phone call to rehash the action. For her, a great game only occurred when our boys could do no wrong and the opposition was hapless. I think most of us would agree, if we’re being honest with ourselves.

It was that unique brand of partisan passion that led our family to include a Terrible Towel, a Pirates hat and her baby-blue Penguins jersey in the casket last weekend in Weirton, W.Va.

Multiple photos of her in team-related garb adorned collages in the funeral parlor. Fittingly, her showing immediately followed a Steelers win over Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon. She would’ve hated for us to miss that!

My grandma grew up when Pittsburgh was singularly a Pirates town and she played a good bit of softball in her youth, so it’s understandable that she loved baseball. The Steelers came into power when she hit middle age, and she was swept up in football mania like everyone else in the region.

But there was no particular reason for her to follow hockey – except that I fell in love with it. Especially once my grandpa passed in 2003, the Penguins functioned as adhesive that kept Nanny and me close, even when I went several hours from home for college and then settled in Ohio and Michigan for employment.

I’ll never forget how happy my grandma was when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and especially when Mario Lemieux lifted the trophy at center ice in Detroit. His joy was her joy, and aren’t shared emotions part of the reason we follow sports?

Surely our relationship was made of more than an interest in the athletes that represent our region. I do know this, however: the bond between us would have been lesser without Pittsburgh sports. I’m not ashamed to say that, just like how Nanny was never too timid to ask for another goal, a clinching drive, or an insurance run or two.

Her support was unrelenting, whether it be for her teams or her grandsons. I was fortunate to be in the latter group.