Staunton coach returns rare bat to pro hero
SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – Sid Bream spent his major league career giving things away to fans.
Seldom, if ever, has he been on the receiving end.
But that streak was broken Saturday night, when Staunton Braves head coach George Laase returned a rare chocolate, two-toned bat to the former professional baseball player, something a young Laase had received from Bream 24 years ago following a game in Pittsburgh.
Bream has spent part of the summer in a Charles Town Cannons uniform serving as an assistant coach while his youngest son, Austin – who has followed in his father’s footsteps to Liberty University – has played first base for the local collegiate Valley Baseball League franchise.
In between a doubleheader Saturday at Sager Field in Shenandoah Junction, Laase presented the Breams with the bat, encased in a protective plastic cover and in good condition.
“It was priceless to me,” Laase said. “But just being able to see the look on their faces when I gave it back. That’s what baseball is supposed to be. The circle of life.”
Bream played his entire 11-year major league career in the National League, including stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros.
It was during the waning days of his time in Pittsburgh (1985-1990) when Bream gave a then-8-year-old Laase a bat in the parking lot after a Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium. Laase, a Martins Ferry, Ohio, native, grew up not far from Pittsburgh.
“As a kid, I’m 8 years old and I love the Pirates,” Laase said. “I loved Sid Bream. It’s hard to imagine a Pirates fan that loves a guy who broke our hearts. But I’m going to tell you the guy’s done everything right. He always played hard. All of us kids growing up thought he was the bees knees.”
Bream, then the Braves’ first baseman, is best remembered for scoring the winning run in Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series against Pittsburgh.
Bream scored after Francisco Cabrera lined a hit to left field off reliever Stan Belinda, beating a throw to home plate by Pirates’ outfielder Barry Bonds and sliding under the tag of catcher Mike LaValliere. The Pirates had entered the bottom of the ninth inning ahead 2-0 and on the brink of the World Series.
Bream went on to play in two World Series with Atlanta before retiring in an Astros’ uniform in 1994.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh suffered through 20 consecutive losing seasons – the longest such streak in North American professional sports history – before posting a winning record in 2013.
Some people referred to the drought as the “Bream Curse.”
Laase, who later played collegiately at Fairmont State, wasn’t one of them. He cherished the bat along with his Will Clark autographed baseball, taking them to college to serve as reminders of the importance of hard work.
This is Laase’s second season as Staunton’s head coach.
“I took a look at the rosters before the season and saw his son was going to be playing,” Lasse said. “I thought wouldn’t that be neat if we ran across Sid. How the bat would come full circle.
“I’ve always held it in my memorabilia room,” he continued. “It’s just something I thought needed to be handed back to him.”
Bream said he was pleasantly surprised by the gesture and will give the bat to his son, Austin.
“The one unique thing about that bat is I only ordered one dozen of those bats in my career,” Bream said. “So to have that back is pretty special. I don’t remember a fan ever giving me something back.
“Most people hold on to those things just to have and to be able to pass it on to their own family members,” he continued. “For him to be willing to hand it back, and give it back to my son, means a lot.”