If all that had been conjured from Philip Beard’s presence in the audience at the first three World Series games ever played at Three Rivers Stadium were a story he could repeat years later over a cold Iron City and a lifetime infatuation with the Pittsburgh Pirates, well, that certainly would have been time well spent.He got so much more, though.       MORE: Craft beer suggestions for every team                                                                                                             He got “Swing.” It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to call “Swing” a sports book. It’s too rare for that. For all the many wonderful non-fiction books written directly about sports (say, Mark Kriegel’s “The Good Son”) and the novels written about characters inspired by real life (like John Grisham’s “Calico Joe”, who seems to be born of Tony Conigliaro’s experience), and the novels written about wholly fictional athletes (such as those in Chad Harbaugh’s marvelous “The Art of Fielding”), what Beard does with “Swing” is wonderfully uncommon.Beard uses the real events of the 1971 World Series between the Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles, including some he observed from the seats behind home plate, as the backbone of a beautiful novel about how people become attached to sports teams as youths, how those attachments can impact family bonds – and even, in a sense, create them.Beard switches between the experiences of lead character Henry as a boy in the Pittsburgh suburbs and as a married man teaching college English in upstate New York. The nine days of the Pirates-Orioles Series dominate what amount to flashback scenes, with intricate detail of the games that impact 11-year-old Henry as he watches his parents’ marriage splinter and his father become absentee. What the should be most joyous time of a boy’s childhood is mangled a bit by real life, but during this period Henry meets an unusual character named John Kostka, who becomes kind of a surrogate father.Beyond the plays in the field — and, eventually, the death of superstar Roberto Clemente in a plane crash 16 months later — there are scenes that Beard witnessed in the stands woven into the story. At the first-ever World Series night game, he sat five rows behind home plate next to Dock Ellis’ wife and daughter, and the little girl borrowed Beard’s game program and doodled hearts on her father’s picture all night, from the first inning to the last out of the ninth. That became a beautifully realized scene in the book.There is enough drawn from Beard’s own experiences watching the 1971 Series that it’s inevitable to ask whether the disaffection the adult Henry feels from baseball in general and the Pirates in particular also afflicted the author, perhaps as a result of the franchise’s 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012.“I think maybe part of Henry’s character was me wishi

ng I could become a disaffected fan,” Beard said. “Because the early drafts of this novel were written really at the height of that slump. I think the first draft was completed in 2008.“When you were a kid in the 70s in Pittsburgh, you just had no chance but to be in love with the Pirates and the Steelers. I fell early and I fell hard and I couldn’t seem to give up. For that entire 20 years, I probably listened to or watched or at least read the Post-Gazette about every single game. Just hoping.“It was brutal, but for whatever reason I couldn’t look away. I did expect it to get better.”One of the few similar uses of real sporting events in the course of a novel — that I can find, anyway — is the early part of Don DeLillo’s “Underworld,” in which the first 134 pages present Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard Round the World from the viewpoint of a boy who manages to retrieve the home run ball, as well as entertainers Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra.“The baseball aspect is chosen, as much as anything, as a vehicle to bring these two characters, Henry and John, together,” Beard said. “Baseball was something that brought my father and myself together when I was a kid, so to me it was a natural vehicle to do that for this kid that’s in search of a father.”Beard’s choice of the 1971 Pirates as a flex point in his novel is curious as it relates to the history of Pittsburgh sports. Professional sports teams won six championships for Pittsburgh in the 1970s, plus Pitt claimed the football national title behind Heisman winner Tony Dorsett in 1976. Clemente’s brilliance as Series MVP is well remembered, but the ’71 Pirates might be the least beloved of those champions. Pittsburgh became a Steelers town with its four Super Bowls in six years, and the 1979 “Fam-a-lee” Pirates had that catch phrase to identify them.“It’s like your lovers, right? You remember the first,” Beard said. “My uncle was a good friend of Dave Ricketts, the bullpen coach. I wound up at all three World Series games in Pittsburgh in 1971, right behind home plate. I was a goner at that point. That’s what cemented my love of the Pirates forever.”The bond was strong enough that Beard spent years trying to get “Swing” on the market during a challenging period in his career as a writer and an impossible time in the publishing industry. He had a small hit with this first novel, “Dear Zoe,” but his follow-up “Lost in the Garden” was not as well supported and (though it’s terrific, as well) did not find a vast audience. Getting a third literary novel published without bestselling success for one of the first two, Beard said, is not easy. Getting that done at the heart of the financial crisis in 2009 was impossible. So his agent talked him into making “Swing” self-published. Those who’ve read it are fortunate he followed that advice.Reading the book could become a worthwhile pastime between October baseball games, of which Beard hopes there will be many for the Pirates. But he is aware they are guaranteed just one: a third consecutive appearance in the National League Wild Card playoff.“I think this team can win the World Series. I really do,” he said, anyway. Beard is not necessarily looking for sequel to “Swing,” just another celebration in Pittsburgh.