Playing baseball, drinking Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer and rooting for the Pirates in the playoffs. I assumed, obviously, that my daughter would be enamored with the first two, but the third? The Pirates haven’t been in the playoffs, or even had a winning season, since I was in the sixth grade 21 years ago – a North American professional sports record. There was a time, which ended only a few weeks ago with win #82, that I sincerely wondered whether the misery and depression that’s gone along with bleeding black and gold as a baseball fan the past two decades would end during my lifetime. I wondered if my daughter would grow up within the (understandably) paranoid and painful world of Pirates fandom: losing, losing and more losing. And, in recent years, false hope that no fanbase in the 140-year history of baseball had ever suffered.
Look, I know: As a Cleveland Browns fan so eloquently, and maybe semi-psychotically, stated recently in an open letter to his endlessly disappointing favorite team, “I know that there are way more important things in life than [sports] but you are supposed to be a pleasant distraction from those things [and] all we do is pay you to put us in a bad mood.” I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and sports are more important than God there. Literally. Almost every church in the area fills its signs with sports references (such as “The Bus [Jerome Bettis] will deliver us to the Promised Land”) when a Pittsburgh team is in the playoffs, and mass times are routinely changed during football season so no one misses a Steelers game. Sports aren’t nearly everything to me, but I can’t escape how the Pirates, Penguins and Steelers’ wins and losses affect me psychologically. And unlike like thousands of Pittsburgh natives, such as my brother (who compared himself today to a battered wife who finally found shelter), I did not abandon the Pirates during their historic 20-year losing streak.
Now that that the Pirates have broken that streak by not only finishing with a winning record but roaring into the playoffs with one of the best records in baseball – and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the no-doubt National League MVP this year – my immense satisfaction (which, if the Pirates win the wildcard game Tuesday, will turn into absolute jubilation) with this season does not necessarily mean I’m outright glad I never stopped following the Battlin’ Buccos. There’s no question my experience as a Pirates fan the last 21 years (which basically played out this tune) shaped part of my sometimes maddeningly negativity-filled personality, and sometimes I do wish I had casually checked up on the team rather than listening to nearly all 162 games (most of which were heartbreaking losses) every year. But one cannot change where he or she is from, nor should anyone wish to. Something about never giving up, never going away, never trading in my allegiance, for the instant satisfaction of being a fan of a bigger-market team, feels great, and true, now that PNC Park (undeniably the most beautiful setting for a baseball game in the world) is poised to host its first post-season game, on Tuesday.
Still, I’ll be watching with my daughter in part because there is a little voice inside me that is justified in thinking that there’s a realistic chance that by the time the Pirates are participating in a playoff game again, our little baseball practices will have paid off and she’ll be old enough to actually take the field as the first-ever female major leaguer.
Let’s do this, Pittsburgh, PA.