PITTSBURGH -- By official city council proclamation, Tuesday was Phil Coyne Day."Who would ever think an old usher would be down here?" Coyne wondered aloud outside council chambers.The answer might be anyone who finds it a well-deserved honor for a spry and beloved 99-year-old who has worked Pirates games at
PITTSBURGH -- By official city council proclamation, Tuesday was Phil Coyne Day.
"Who would ever think an old usher would be down here?" Coyne wondered aloud outside council chambers.
The answer might be anyone who finds it a well-deserved honor for a spry and beloved 99-year-old who has worked Pirates games at three ballparks since 1936, with time off for defending his country.
"Phil's a legend, to put it simply," said councilman Dan Gilman, who sponsored the resolution he read in front of Coyne and nearly 50 family members and friends, including several PNC Park co-workers.
"He brings joy to everybody he comes in contact with," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said.
The gathering represented but a slice of the Coynes family -- likely hundreds by some estimates -- who have occupied southwest Pennsylvania. The oldest of eight children of Irish immigrants, Phil Coyne outlived all his siblings. A brother, William Coyne, represented the Pittsburgh area in Congress from 1980 to 2002.
"Philly," as he often is called, never married. He has, however, "been a grandfather to a lot of us even though he's an uncle," said a nephew, Tom Foley. "I consider him the finest man I've ever known." A long-time neighbor, Ron Reid, said of Coyne's recognition, "I think this is a great thing for a great human being."
Coyne was born in April 1918, more than six months before World War I ended. He grew up in the Oakland neighborhood (where he still lives), attending dozens of games at nearby Forbes Field, including one in 1935 in which Babe Ruth hit the last three home runs of his career.
Coyne signed on as an usher after graduating from high school. A machinist by trade, he worked at the ballpark between full-time shifts. He was drafted into the Army in 1941 before Pearl Harbor and served as an artilleryman in north Africa and Italy, returning to Forbes Field after the war. He moved with the club to Three Rivers Stadium in 1970 and PNC Park in 2001.
"It goes so fast you don't realize it," he said.
Among an estimated 6,000 games worth of memories, Bill Mazeroski's home run that won Game 7 of the 1960 World Series stands out. Coyne was stationed behind the Yankees' dugout along the third-base line. When all heck broke loose, he did ... nothing.
"We were supposed to keep people off the field," Coyne said. "I just turned around and walked away."
Coyne, who patrols rows 26 and 27 in the first level along the left-field line at PNC Park, is an institution and something of a national celebrity. He attributes his longevity to Oreos and milk before bedtime, and all Pittsburghers know. Craig Sager interviewed Coyne on TBS during the Pirates' National League Wild Card win in 2013, and Coyne recently was profiled on the CBS Evening News.
He also has worked Steelers and Pitt football games through the years, but he will stop after this season in deference to the cold weather. He has signed on for another year with the Pirates, but that's no surprise.
"I'm getting a lot of hugs and kisses," he said.
Bob Cohn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.