A Pirates Life for me

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I called my dad after it happened. It was his birthday coincidentally, and we had a special father-son bonding moment that we have been longing to have for more than 20 years. I breathed a sigh of relief into the phone and all I said was “82.” I couldn’t see it, but I knew he was grinning ear to ear, just like I was when I said that number. It is an emotional feeling that I just can’t properly put into words and a single word would not do justice to the years of suffering Pirate fans and myself have felt. Eighty-two wins is just a number. But for us fans that number means so much more. There was no special celebration among the coaches and players after the win, but they surely understood what it meant to the fanbase. There was plenty of celebrating to be had back home.

No one knew just how bad the losing would get after that 1992 season. The story has been told countless times in a variety of ways since then, but it always came back to the same thing every time; losing. If there was one constant throughout all of those years, it was the people who ask some variation of these questions:

“Why are you still a fan? The Pirates suck,” or “How do you support a team who does nothing but trade away their best players and never wants to win?”

hi-res-152771322_crop_650x440Each time I would have to produce an answer, and each time I would receive the same blank and confused stare, as if your answer for supporting this team was never going to be right. I had put too much time and effort into this team, and I was never going to turn my back on them. I can think of one time, and one time only I was about ready to give up on this team — the second half of 2010. You had a few core of players ready for a breakout and passable Major League talent (by Pirate standards at the time), but were only able to manage 57 wins. I barely watched any of the second half of that season, I just needed a break. I was worn out. But I knew would be back, because you had players like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez in the lineup. What I had waited all those years for, the core face of franchise players, had just let me down at the worst possible time but were ready to help this ballclub now. There was an excitement that just didn’t exist over previous years.

It’s a day, quite frankly, many of us didn’t think we would ever see, but knew was going happen at some point. We just didn’t know how we were supposed to feel or act when it actually happened. You just had to celebrate in your own way.  Along the way many fans have became attached to players who were the face of a franchise during its worse times. Players who would love nothing more than to suit up for this current team and be a part of the winning that they were never able to experience here. Players like Jason Kendall, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay and Brian Giles were all fan favorites, each bringing their own passion and love for the city. You could tell they wanted to win here, witnessing first hand their enthusiasm and energy they gave on a nightly basis.

7034648There have been too many ugly moments to talk about and too many forgetful players. I found myself in a four-hour car trip with a friend playing the game “name a former Pirate” (rules being they had to be from the losing era). After about an hour-and-a-half and close to what might be 150 some players, I only realized just how bad some of those teams were based on names alone (Abraham Nunez, Mike Benjamin and Chris Stynes were some of my favorites).  I was rooting for the Pirates and trying to care for players who I barely cared about. This team has players that are likeable, none more so than McCutchen, who shows up every night. It starts from the top with Clint Hurdle who brings something former manager John Russell would never show, passion. It has worn off on the players and even the fans have warmed up to Hurdle and his positive sayings. There are two former two managers I can think of who had staying power and the ability to win over the fans, Chuck Tanner and Jim Leyland. They were true leaders and likeable guys. The closest the Pirates might have had to that in those losing years was Lloyd McClendon, and that’s not saying much because  he was remembered more for his outburst and stealing of first base. Enjoy and appreciate what Hurdle has done and what he means for this franchise.

The 82nd win was gratifying, but with this team in the heat of a division race for first place, it’s hard to appreciate it because there is so much more on the line right now. But the players who were involved for 82, it feels like a symbolic passing of the touch to what the future holds. A future ace in Gerrit Cole, whose pitching ceiling looks to be unlike any other to ever wear the black and gold, taking the mound and stepping up. An MVP candidate, who is locked up for another five years, playing centerfield just crushing baseballs right now. Alvarez, who has finally come into his own this year, delivering the winning hit and the local kid Neil Walker delivering the final out to end the streak. Every one of those seems too perfect for this franchise

This losing streak has consumed more than half of my life, but I’m ready to move on.  A chapter has been closed and a new one is ready to begin for the Pirates and for their fans. The 82nd win will be a memory that soon fades, but one that will not be forgotten for a long time.

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Chris Dazen
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
http://www.facebook.com/thecover4
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