Baseball Pioneers Point Park's baseball teams of the 1970s remain wildly dedicated to the game and to each other
By Rich Fisher (COM ’80)
In the 1970s, about the only thing Point Park baseball teams did more than win games, was have fun. They approached both with equal zeal and captured the imagination and attention of an entire school and city.
In the fall of 1976, upon arriving from New Jersey at what was then a two-building “campus” divided by Wood Street, certain folks advised me to “keep clear of the baseball team, they could be a little wild.”
That was the best advice I never took.
A few days after meeting affable first baseman Ed Haberle, I found myself singing Aerosmith songs with second baseman Joe Fiori at a TGIF party, and the team embraced me as one of their own. I did everything with them but suit up on gameday. And I still cherish many as best friends. They were wild all right – wildly dedicated to baseball and each other.
A reunion to remember
That dedication was celebrated [in summer 2018] with a reunion after nearly 40 years. It was 1979-80 grads Dave Duncan, Denny “Snapout” Welch, Fiori and Haberle who staged the reunion for the teams of the 1970s.
Former head coach Barry Hanburger and nearly 40 players and supporters attended the event at Duncan’s home, along with Point Park President Paul Hennigan, current baseball coach Loren Torres and Assistant Athletic Director Kevin Taylor.
Much of the turnout was “coaxed” by Welch, who lived up to his nickname if someone dare told him they weren’t coming. After being snapped at by Snapout, you changed your mind and were glad you did.
For Hanburger, it was the first time seeing most of his players in 40 years. It felt like 40 minutes.
“With some of the guys it seemed like yesterday, as if nothing had changed in our lives,” Hanburger said. “The stories seemed to pick up exactly as if we just had a game a few days ago. I think that is because there was, and is, a lack of pretense with these guys to the extent that they are humble in what they achieved and what they still have lying ahead of them.
“A lot of them have become successful in a career or monetary way but those are not the only keys to success. Simply being a good husband, father and friend goes a long way to making your life a success.”
When it comes to friendships, this group takes success to a new level. Like their coach, the former teammates quickly eased into conversations as the stories, food and drink flowed for over six hours. There is a bond that has been forever woven together by athletic accomplishments and an “us-against-the-world” attitude cultivated throughout the 1970s.
What was considered wild back then wouldn’t even pass as colorful on modern day campuses. It was just a bunch of charismatic guys who enjoyed having fun and sometimes got a little loud while doing so. The only thing they enjoyed more was winning baseball games.
Groundwork for success
They laid the groundwork that countless Point Park baseball teams have built upon in establishing one of the great NAIA baseball legacies. The late Frankie Gustine, a former Pirate, piloted the first NAIA World Series qualifier in 1974 followed by Hanburger and the late Ben Fiori, a former Buccos scout, later in the decade.
“Frank Gustine (and star players) Harry Westwood and Lou Abel started the tradition,” Haberle said. “Barry inherited the winning tradition, embraced it with great local talent, and it continues today with Coach (Loren) Torres.”
The program started competition on the four-year level in 1968, and from 1970-80, Point Park went 207-67 (.755) with six District 18 championships, four NAIA World Series appearances and a national third-place finish in 1979. Point Park also finished third at the 1986 NAIA World Series under coach Mark Jackson.
What made that so amazing is the players had no training or practice facilities – or home field, for that matter – to call their own. They drove dilapidated vans and for years they paid to work out at nautilus centers on their own. Most were commuters, but those who lived at school had nowhere to even have a catch.
“We conducted raffles each year to earn our own money to buy new uniforms, jackets and equipment so we always had the best we could afford,” Hanburger said.
And yet Hanburger managed to nab some of Western Pennsylvania’s best players to elevate the program’s status beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
The driving force behind the late 1970s teams were Duncan, Haberle and Fiori, who lived together in room 1501, the team’s social mecca. All three are in the Pioneer Athletic Hall of Fame along with their one-year teammate John Stuper (1978), who went on to win a World Series game for the St. Louis Cardinals and is now the coach at Yale.
The roommates noted that Hanburger’s honest, no-nonsense approach is what coerced them.
Duncan was impressed by a package Hanburger put together highlighting the program’s success. Haberle wanted to stay close to home, liked the idea of being in downtown Pittsburgh and was more worried about who he would have as teammates rather than the facilities he didn’t have. Fiori was set to attend Marshall before Haberle, a summer league teammate on the Little Pirates, suggested he listen to Hanburger’s pitch.
“Barry talked about the great recruiting class he had already assembled over the summer and that they were building the program from that incoming recruiting class,” Fiori said. “He never showed me any facilities, never talked about their home field and I never asked. It turns out, there was a reason he never talked about their facilities; they didn't have any!”
And yet, Fiori came. The Pioneers reached the World Series his junior year and his dad, Benny, took over in 1979. Point Park finished third in the nation that year and reached the World Series again in 1980 after major graduation hits.
Aside from talent, those teams had a chemistry that never dissolved.
“My closest, dearest friends have been by my side during times of laughter and tears,” Haberle said. “Now it is time to give back to a school that helped me be the person I am today.” Haberle and Duncan are both on Point Park’s Board of Trustees along with fellow 1970s baseball alums Joe Ogrodnik and Jeff Cohen.
“To this day, 40 years later, I consider my roommates and teammates among my closest friends,” Duncan said. “We were incredibly confident – perhaps to the edge of arrogance. But it was born out of a supreme belief in each other and our abilities. We never felt that we could lose. Someone, somehow would come through in the clutch and deliver a win. Of course, we did lose occasionally, but it was only because we ran out of innings.”
“We really believed we could compete against any team in college baseball. The loose, relaxed and confident attitude of the team was real and did relieve the pressure because we did everything together. We formed a bond and a brotherhood that was unlike anything I've ever seen before or since.”
That bond was on full display at the reunion, as the young brothers reunited as middle-aged men, many whom have gone on to great success as executives, coaches, salesmen, crisis counselors, bankers and numerous other professions.
In the middle of it all, like a proud father, was Hanburger.
“Everyone seemed delighted to be there and just enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “Guys did not talk about themselves but were very interested to hear what happened in their friends’ lives since we parted.”
And when they reunited, that winning pride and zest for good times ran through the entire group once again.
It all felt just right.
Text by Point Park alumnus and New Jersey native Rich Fisher (COM '80), who covered Point Park’s baseball teams for The Globe student newspaper in the 1970s. He went on to become a sports editor for two weekly newspapers and freelance writer for The Trentonian. Fisher has covered sports for the Associated Press and served as a writer for various corporate and business ventures. He is the founder of Fish4Scores.com, the all-Hamilton Township sports website. Fisher tweets at: twitter.com/Fish4scores.
The Point is the magazine of Point Park University