Blog & Tackle: A small personal tribute

June 17, 2008 | Chris Pika

If I could impose on the WNST community for a moment, I wanted to mark the passing of my uncle, Albert Stravinsky, earlier on Tuesday. “Uncle Al” was just a regular guy, an Army veteran, a blue-collar supply truck driver who shared an enjoyment of sports with me – one that was passed down to us from his father — my grandfather.

Al cheered for the Ravens, Orioles, watched sports on TV and rooted for whatever team or school I worked for. He proudly wore a Saints or Falcons hat to work at Porters Supply Company and got a kick out of stories from the Super Bowls and other events I was a part of. Every Sunday, he got a call from whatever city I was in to tell him about the game and check to see how the Ravens did.

He never really understood the business of sports, but always said he’d play gladly quarterback for the Ravens to make the kind of money NFL players get these days. He thought that he could do just as well as Kyle Boller or Steve McNair.

“I could throw an interception just like he did and get paid that kind of dough,” he said several times to me when the Ravens were on the losing end this past season. I got a laugh from thinking about a 60-plus-year-old man in a Ravens jersey and glasses taking a snap from center and cashing the paycheck.

One of my fondest memories was my trip back home with the Falcons to play the Ravens in 2006. He and my mom had pregame sideline passes and he got to see an NFL game up close and meet many of those I worked with in Atlanta. I enjoyed watching his reactions to the preparation each team goes through and the sheer size of the modern-day NFL players.

It was the last time I saw him in person, but we spoke every Sunday (and many days in-between) just the same and traded stories, jokes and talked about the games.

In short, he was no different than any of us who are from Baltimore. Family and the ties that bind — which include sports — were important to him. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and the people he worked with at Porters. A simple man with simple tastes of laughter, love and sports.

All of us have an “Uncle Al” in our lives somewhere. It might be the crazy cousin, or the aunt who dresses in purple on Sundays, the brother-in-law who has Ravens tickets in the upper deck and invites you to go once in a while or just a regular fan like the late “Wild Bill” Hagy, whose birthday is today.

Or like Al, someone who didn’t step inside a modern facility outside of Memorial Stadium but just a few times, who followed by way of the television, radio and newspaper, sat on the stoop in the summer and listened to the Orioles game on the radio in a simpler time — someone who would have enjoyed the debates about who is the “King of Baltimore Sports.” (For his money, it was Johnny U. while I thought Brooks was the man.)

One of our last conversations was after Jim McKay passed away. “They don’t make them like him anymore,” he said. “But, we’re all getting old.” How true.

“Hey, it’s just a game,” he would remind me after tough losses left me in a not-so-great mood on the team bus when I called from the road or the press boxes in New Orleans or Atlanta. Then, we shared a laugh about something silly and caught up about how the week before went for both of us and how my wife was doing. Then he would eventually ask, “Where are you next Sunday?”

Where I will be this coming Sunday is honoring the memory of a gentle soul who was one of the many people who make up the unique fabric of Baltimore. He was a worker and a grinder who never asked more from life than to enjoy the simple things it offered and the occasional winning daily lotto ticket.

Thanks for the good times and Godspeed, Uncle Al. I’ll carry all of those Sundays with me always.

–Chris Pika