City of Champions, or: Why You Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Pirates
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you know a thing or two about the city of Pittsburgh. You know that we’re the Steel City, and that we pride ourselves on hard work, especially in times of adversity. You know the skyline—the one that rivals even the tallest of skyscrapers in the biggest of cities—and, if pressed, I’m sure that you even know how to spell “Monongahela.” You know that we’re the City of Champions. You know about the Super Steelers, and “One For the Thumb,” and when we won that fifth Super Bowl, you know that fans and players alike were instantly hungry for a sixth. You know about the Penguins, Le Magnifique, and Sid the Kid. You know that there are people who are willing to lug couches up Centre Avenue so they can sit in the spot where “The Igloo” once stood, and watch the Pens on an enormous TV screen with tens of thousands of other fans who would prefer watching the game in the dark, on a vacant gravel lot, to watching it in the comfort of their own homes.
No doubt, you know about the Pirates, too. You know about Clemente, “We Are Fam-A-Lee,” and you know about Sid Bream’s slide into home in 1992 that sent the Pirates wandering in the desert for the next 20 seasons. Since then, you probably know that the Pirates have become a punch line. You know that we prefer winners to losers, and an inconsistent team equals an inconsistent fan base. A consistently bad team probably deserves a worse one
Naturally, I’ve had my doubts. In 2010, the Pirates recorded a paltry 57-105 record, and I was laughing right along with the rest of them. There didn’t even seem to be anyone within the Pirates’ organization who really cared all that much; why should I?
Clint Hurdle changed my mind. He took over managing the Pirates in 2011, after their dismal eighteenth consecutive losing season, and saw an opportunity within the crisis. Improbably, Hurdle seemed eager to join the organization who owns the record for futility, not only in baseball, but also in all of North American sports. In fact, he called it “the greatest opportunity in the world… [to rebond] a city with a ball club.” With such enthusiasm in Pirates’ leadership, it was hard for me not to follow suit, and now, I would encourage you to do the same. The iron will that was alive in Franco Harris, Mario Lemieux, and Roberto Clemente is alive in the Pirates today, even if they may not have demonstrated it in the win-loss column quite yet. They want to win, and more than anything, they want you to want them to win.
So here’s what I’m proposing. Don’t give up on the Pirates. If, after 20 long seasons, by some miracle, you haven’t given up on them yet, don’t give up on them now.
I always say that one of the reasons that I love the Pirates the way that I do is because the other teams give me high blood pressure. I love the Penguins and the Steelers too, but for different reasons. I get excitement from hockey and football, but I also expect success. When our teams fail, it stresses me out. With the Pirates, it’s different. Excitement isn’t always expected, but it’s always welcome, and losing one game is only a small setback. Baseball is a marathon. There’s room to brush off some of the losses. Especially with twenty years of losing, it’s nice to remember that there’s really nowhere to go but up.
The twenty-year monkey on our backs reminds me of another good reason to embrace the Battlin’ Bucs. When I dove headlong into fanaticism, I did so, in part, because I wanted to be able to say, “I told you so.” Slowly, but surely, it’s occurred to me that hundreds of thousands of voices crying “We told you so,” would be a lot more satisfying (Especially when “you” becomes, I don’t know, Cleveland or something).
I’m not going to talk to you about how PNC Park deserves to have a winner, and I’m not going to spew nostalgia about the good old days, sitting on the porch, listening to the Pirates on KDKA. You know that PNC Park is beautiful, and you know that the Pirates were a pretty good baseball team in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Right now, I’m asking you to make a leap of faith. I’m asking you to commit to a loser right now, which seems counterproductive, but I’m convinced that that commitment will pay off when the Pirates win their eighty-second game. I hope that you are too.