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Fond memories of Curve never fade

Hyzdu still focal point of team’s early days

May 10 marked the 20th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Pirates signing Adam Hyzdu and assigning him to the Altoona Curve.

That simple transaction left an indelible impact on the Curve, the city of Altoona, and from a personal standpoint, my own family.

In the early days of the franchise, my family had season tickets in the first row of section 215. We attended nearly every home game and soaked in the atmosphere as the region embraced the new Double-A franchise.

As the chill of spring turned into warm summer nights, my family fell in love with the Curve. We learned to pronounce Rob Mackowiak’s name, studied the slick fielding of Luis Figueroa and admired the five-tool potential of Alex Hernandez.

More than anything in the summer of 1999, we were drawn to No. 16.

Soon after he joined the club, it was clear to us that Hyzdu was special. While many players appeared overmatched, fell victim to mental lapses, or lost their temper on the field (hello, Kevin Haverbusch), Hyzdu played the game the right way.

As a 13-year-old baseball player myself, he was somebody to look up to and learn from. Our seats along the first-base line provided a perfect angle for me to study his mechanics at the plate.

There was nowhere else I would rather be than Blair County Ballpark.

Our travel party usually included my father, Chuck Kensinger, my uncle, John Showalter, and John’s uncle, Max Shoenfelt. Other family members, like Alan Musselman, and close family friends, like Steve Shover, often joined us for games.

As the inaugural season came to an end, we couldn’t wait for the next season of Curve baseball.

When the Pirates sent Hyzdu back for another season in Altoona in the spring of 2000, we were surprised but also excited to watch him play again. Of course, Hyzdu not only met, but exceeded all expectations as he put together a legendary season.

Once school was done for the year, we began planning road trips to watch the Curve play in other Eastern League cities. Trips to Bowie, Binghamton, New Britain, and Harrisburg were highlights of the summer.

My father, Uncle Max, and I loaded up into Uncle John’s van, and we passed the time debating when Hyzdu would get the call to Triple-A Nashville.

We didn’t miss more than a handful of games during the 2000 season, and familiar faces at the ballpark became close friends. There were so many people we formed special bonds with through our shared connection to the Curve.

That summer was such a memorable time in my life. I can still close my eyes and put myself right back in section 215. I usually sat between Uncle Max and my father. I’d snack on peanuts while Uncle Max sipped hot coffee no matter how high the heat and humidity climbed.

We bonded over baseball and enjoyed spending quality time together. The Hyzdu home runs and diving catches were fun to watch, but it was time together as family that was most meaningful.

I can’t believe it has been 20 years already. The memories are too fresh in my mind to think it has been so long.

Part of the reason it doesn’t feel like so much time has passed is that our connection to Hyzdu didn’t stop after his time in Altoona ended. We continued to occasionally travel to watch him play in the minors and made numerous road trips to see him in the big leagues.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Hyzdu brought my family closer together. He represented everything that is great about our national pastime.

Uncle Max died in 2010. Steve Shover passed away just a few weeks ago. When I think about them, I can’t help but think of all the great nights we spent together watching Hyzdu roam the outfield grass in Altoona.

The early days of the franchise were special, and Adam Hyzdu made the experience unique.

(Kensinger resides in State College.)

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