i grew up in western pa, listening to pirates broadcasts and praying for hits from rafael belliard, andy van slyke, r.j. reynolds, sid bream and tony pena, just to name a few. i went to three rivers stadium and cheered for barry bonds before it was cool (and then uncool). and the pirates were competitive then. i have fond memories of their playoff runs in the early 90's, even though by then i had moved to kentucky and had to deal with nominal reds fans. by 1992, i had already begun to foster a deep appreciation for the history of the new york yankees, as well as a great affection for their first baseman, don mattingly, but the buccos were still my number one team.
then, the strike. i hated major league baseball for that strike, and i stopped caring.
until 1998 when all those home runs starting calling me back. but by then i lived in new jersey and i was able to give some real attention to my american league team while the pirates were in the throws of one of the most embarrassing stretches for any team ever. and the hardest part to deal with was that it wasn't just on the field, although that was part of it. it had so much to do with the way the team was run and managed, with decisions that came from the top down; decisions to get rid of certain players and then get rid of more and then, at long last, get rid of even a few more, until all that was left was a crop of young players who would perform moderately well so that they could sell them off next year.
the pirates became a joke. and it's basically been that way for 18 years. eighteen years! there are people serving in the military who have never been alive for a winning season by the pittsburgh pirates! that's insane. and it has made the pirates not only a laughingstock, but also fodder for constant talk about pittsburgh losing the team to another city.
and then there was 2011. well, the story goes back further than that, but i don't have the knowledge or time to tell it, and you don't have the interest to read it, but this year the buccos hired a new, no-nonsense manager, and the team finally seems to have the right chemistry, and (i'm crossing my fingers here) a commitment from ownership and management to only make moves to improve the team and give them a better chance to win. as i type this at the nominal halfway point of the season, the pirates are 47-43, four games over .500 and just one game out of first place in the national league central division. if you haven't really been following baseball this year, feel free to spew your coffee and bagel across the room at this time. one game! for the first time in a generation, pirates fans have a legitimate reason to be excited and enthusiastic. finally that gem of a baseball park has something fitting to fill it: both an exciting team that is winning and an excited fanbase that is releasing 18 years of pent-up frustration.
who knows how the rest of the season will play out? they could taper off, and finish off below .500 again. or they could keep it up and stay competitive in the division (especially if the pitching stays strong). but no matter how it ends up, if the ownership demonstrates (by their actions) that they are really committed to keeping a winning team in pnc park, this team will be exciting to watch in the coming years. so count me in as one who is on board the pirates' express: i'm the one digging his old pirate hat out of the back of the closet and shouting "raise the jolly roger!" after each bucco win. go pirates!