Maybe it’s because I began my baseball fandom following the Cubs. Or perhaps it’s because the writer in me loves good stories, especially redemptive ones. Yes, my massive crush on one particular Pirate certainly plays a role, but it goes beyond him or any one guy on their team this year. Because after spending Labor Day weekend in Pittsburgh and talking with so many Pirates fans, I genuinely am happy for them after they won number 82.
If you think that’s wrong for me as a Cardinals fan, so it goes — I’m not going to apologize. I spent last night watching both the Pirates and the Reds and, as a fan of great pitching, found both games compelling. (Travis Wood! We love you!)
Yet it was the one on my laptop, Pirates and Rangers, Gerrit Cole against Yu Darvish, that captured my attention more (and that was way before this happened).
Yes, the end of the Pirates 20-year losing streak has gotten plenty of attention and justifiably so. Sure, Cards fans can mock and be bitter (and plenty are) but just think about it from their perspective. Where were you in 1992? What have you experienced baseball-wise since then? Even for me, as a Cards fan since 2000, it’s been beyond tremendous. Now, what if the Cardinals hadn’t even won 82 games once in a season during that time — how would you feel? It’s not like the Cubs and them not going to or winning a World Series. It’s not winning, period.
Those fans who’ve stuck by them definitely deserve a break for how they’re feeling now. And, undoubtedly, those Pirates fans were the best part of the trip to Pittsburgh.
They are very friendly, they are very happy and they are very realistic. Every single one — and I talked to plenty, mostly because they initiated the conversations — is certain the Cardinals are going to win the division. Every single one was good with that. Winning the wild card would be great, they all said. What they wanted most was last night: winning 82. Except for the first guy I talked to, at the hotel bar before Friday’s game, who wanted to win 83.
Why that number? I don’t know, and didn’t think to ask at the moment. The guy is a season ticket holder and was telling Stacy and me about the surreal sensation it was to receive an email about playoff tickets, and to have to actually decide what to do — how many games he wanted to purchase tickets for. The look on his face as he talked about it was like a kid on Christmas morning who got to see what his presents were, even though he couldn’t open them yet, and couldn’t quite believe what he was receiving.
One universal declaration among all the Pirates fans who talked to us: how old they were in 1992. The drunk guy behind us Saturday night reminded us over and over (because he forgot again and again he’d already told us) that he was seven years old the last time they had a winning season. A woman in line at the bathroom that same night told me she was in sixth grade in 1992 — it’s been a long time, she said. On Sunday, another woman — there with her husband and four kids, going to a game as a special treat — told me she was 20 the last time they’d won and had been in love with Andy Van Slyke. Over and over, from fan after fan.
I’d been to PNC Park once before this trip, for a game on July 24, 2008, between the Padres and Pirates. My big memories of the experience: a small, quiet crowd and plenty of Steelers merchandise for sale in the team store. (And seeing Xavier Nady hit his final Pirates home run, but we didn’t know that until he was traded the next day.) So even just walking into the ballpark for the Friday night Cardinals-Pirates game was already a different experience — so many people! Sitting down the right field line, the energy and excitement from the fans really were — objectively speaking — electric. The cheers as Garrett Jones drove in two runs in the first inning were incredible, surpassed only by the roars that came when he and Russell Martin hit back-to-back home runs a few innings later.
Not that I was happy about it, nor the next night’s game either when Lance Lynn was Lance Lynn and the fans went even more crazy and the Pirates took the division lead back — momentarily. Sunday, with Joe Kelly being Joe Kelly and our incredible seats in section 13 to view it all from, was a much more pleasant experience.
Yet so were the conversations I had with Pirates fans after Sunday’s game at the hotel bar. One was with a man who grew up in Pittsburgh but now lives about 50 miles outside of Washington, D.C. That was was his first time at PNC Park — the most recent game he’d been to in the city before that was in 1992, though he’d been to plenty of Pirates-Nationals games in recent years. He had that “I can’t believe this is really happening” expression the entire time we talked. So did the younger guy who sat next to me after that, yet he spoke with admiration about the Cardinals and how they’ve built their farm system and how the team consistently competes and wins. That’s what he wants for the Pirates, he said — next year and beyond. For this season, he just wanted to get to 82 and then play in the wild card game — hopefully at PNC — and see what happened from that.
With 19 games left for both the Cardinals and the Pirates, 17 for the Reds and the standings the way they are, things are going to be tense and nerve-wracking and crazy through Sept. 29, since winning the division title is the only way to guarantee more than one October game. And, now that the Pirates have a winning season, I can stop hoping they achieve the milestone for the sake of their fans.
I am happy all those I talked to in Pittsburgh, and all the other die-hard Pirates fans, are smiling this morning. Congrats to all and enjoy!
But I further hope all those I met were correct once Sept. 29 gets here — and the Cardinals really do end up NL Central champs.
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email email@example.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.