Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pirates return to glory days... Wait for it.... *17 years later* ...Wait for it...

Old mafia costumes and old Pittsburgh Pirates uniforms; throwbacks to better days for both organizations, long since passed.

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates suffered their 10th straight loss. I use the term “suffered” not in the sense that it was inflicted upon them so much as that at this point the team seems like a sad, struggling deer hit by a car, then another car, then another car, then it starts raining on it, then another car hits it, then a bus hits it… and so on, and so on.

Their record is now 23-42 so far this season.

I won’t elaborate on the many reasons the Pirates have an abysmal record and haven’t had a winning season in 17 years. There have been enough media, fan, and sports commentator analyses on this to fill a stadium, which, oddly enough, the Pirates still do too. Suffice to say that our biggest problem is that those running the franchise use it as a cash cow and milk the Pirates as a feeder system to send any good players to better teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. You know, teams with winning records who make it to the playoffs and such.

As a result, the Pirates have become the Detroit Lions of baseball. That comparison is only inaccurate in that it is impossible to have a completely winless season in baseball due to the sheer number of games played.

When I was a child, the first sporting event I remember attending was a Pirates' baseball game with my parents and little brother. My mom and dad bought my little brother and me Pirates' baseball hats and black and gold baseball bats. I still have my hat and the initial of my first name is still written under the brim in marker that I used to differentiate it from my brother’s. I was 6.

My parents took me to a baseball game, not a hockey or football game. They did this for a few reasons. First, we didn’t have much money growing up, but for a couple dollars, you could, and still can, take your family to the game.

Second, baseball is a family game. You can take your young children and not have drunk, rowdy fans ruin the experience.

Finally, baseball is the great American past time. After watching that game, my brother and I had to have baseball bats, balls, and gloves. I remember countless hours spent in the backyard throwing the ball around with my dad and brother. When they weren’t around, I threw the ball up against the shed and it would ricochet back into my glove. ...I got yelled at for the marks that left on the shed.

By comparison, I’m a much bigger hockey and football fan, and I didn’t attend my first pro hockey game until I was 10, and my first pro football game until I was 22. They are just too expensive. To this day, I can go to all the Pirates games when they play in DC, where I live, against the Nationals without a second thought on cost. I still have to save up ahead of time if I want to go to a Pens' or Steelers' game.

Your average American family can make it out to the baseball park and afford to see the game. Your average American family can’t afford a pro hockey or football game. Our hardworking families of western Pennsylvania deserve to see their dime well spent when they go to a Pirates game. I don’t mean they need to see wins all the time, but they need to see something impressive on the field, and they deserve to go to a game where “root, root, root for the home team!” means you are cheering for a team that has a chance.

This past October, at a friend’s Halloween party in Washington, DC, I happened upon the oddest costume I had ever seen to date. It was a man in his 70s dressed head-to-toe in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. It was one of the old timey uniforms too. I crossed the room and walked right up to him smiling.

Me: “HI! Wow you must be a big Pirates fan to wear that here! I'm a fan too and I love your costume. I’ve never seen a Pittsburgh Pirates costume before."
Guy: "Oh this isn’t a costume. It’s actually my old uniform. I used to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Don Schwall. Nice to meet you.”

I had never before been so proud to be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. Here I was, honored to meet a man who pitched for my baseball team in the glory days. Here he was, having played for the Pirates from 1963-1966, 45 years later still proudly getting some use out of his old uniform. He wasn’t mocking the Pirates, and certainly nobody was mocking him. He stood tall and proud in his uniform, the way our team and fans used to too.

"Duke" (as he goes by), remembered the days when he used to play for the Pirates; when we used to be great; when we used to be respected. My dad remembers those days too and, growing up, Roberto Clemente was one of his heroes. I don't really remember the Pirates ever being good.

Meeting Duke made me realize that the Pirates aren’t nobodies. We used to be somebodies. And we can be somebodies again.

I want to cry over a baseball game. I’ve cried over a football game before. I’ve cried over a basketball game. I’ve cried over a hockey game. I cried in all of those when hard fought battles ended and dreams (mine, a team’s, a city’s... of winning a game or a championship, or making the playoffs or moving on in them) were shattered. For dreams to be shattered, you had to have a dream to begin with. For far too long a World Series win, a playoff win, or even a winning season, has, for Pirates fans, been an honor we dream not of. I want some baseball dreams, even if only to be shattered.

I’m not looking for a World Series win. The Red Sox and Yankees can have 'em. In Pittsburgh, between the Steelers and Penguins, we’re all stocked up on championships and we’ll keep them coming in. I just want a team I can be proud of; a team about which I can say “I think this is our year!” and ever be taken seriously. I don’t want baseball fans – neither ours nor our opponents – to roll their eyes at the mention of my team.

I’ll never be one of those awful fans who turns on my team. I’ll never call the “Buckos” the “Suckos”. I’ll never boo us or cheer for the other team. I’ll still go to games, decked head to toe in Pirates gear and Pittsburgh colors and cheer for my favorite players, who’s names I actually bother learning (my favorite is Lastings Milledge), despite their high likelihood of being traded away. And I’m not the only one.

The Pirates have got the best fans in the world in the people of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Steelers fans are consistently named the best in the NFL by ESPN and Pittsburgh Penguins’ fans are named the best in the NHL by Forbes Magazine. Neither organization even needs to give these awards, because if you ask just about anybody, they'll tell you the hockey and football fans from Pittsburgh are the most dedicated.

We have one of the most beautiful stadiums in MLB; and it’s practically brand new!

If you build it, they will come. We built you a beautiful new stadium. We built you the best fan base any team could ever ask for. We still fill those stands. We still buy the Pirate gear. We still do this after 17 straight losing seasons.

All we ask in exchange is that those in charge of the Pirates franchise try. Try and build us a sustainable team. Try investing some money into buying us good players we actually hold onto and don’t sell at their first spark of talent. Try and show some, any, appreciation for what this city has given you. We are the city of champions... not just our teams, but our people as well. Start running this team like you give a crap about it. You've got a city and fans who still do.

We don’t want a World Series win. We just want one year to believe – really believe – that this just might be our year.

“I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.”

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