Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hope and the Pittsburgh Pirates

In many ways, good news has been in short supply in recent weeks. There has been political chaos, child murder cases, stifling heat, and media scandals.

Other than for cynics and pessimists, we have been going through a depressing stretch. Then again, cynics and pessimists are probably depressed in some way all the time, but that is a different story for a different time.

Even outlets we use to escape the problems of every day life have had strife. Sports are an outlet many people use, but the labor problems in the National Football League were an irritant for most of the year.

However, if we keep looking there is good news to be found. An excellent example of this is the Pittsburgh Pirates in Major League Baseball.

The Pirates are one of the most storied franchises in that sport, but since 1993, the team has been a laughingstock. Perennial losers, the Battling Bucs have been cannon fodder for most of the National League.

But this year, the team has improved. So far this summer, the young team has held its own in the Central Division and remains in competition for first place. Will this continue? It is too soon to tell, but my advice to Pirates' fans is to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Though I have been an Atlanta Braves fan for most of my life, I must admit a soft spot for the Pirates. As I became aware of baseball as a boy in the early 1970s, Pittsburgh was a team I gravitated toward.

This was likely because of the death of their remarkable right fielder Roberto Clemente. Clemente was killed on New Year's Eve 1972 while rushing supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

To this day, I do not totally understand why his death impacted me. In fourth grade, I remember doing a book report on a Clemente biography. It was a thick book authored by Kal Wagenheim, and it was a formidable undertaking compared to some of my other classmates.

Because of this, I have been following the events in Pittsburgh this year with interest. With only a $45 million payroll, the team has already won series against big market teams like the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox.

While $45 million seems like a lot of money (and it is), it is chump change compared to the budgets of those teams, which have payrolls in the hundreds of millions. We are witnessing a classic example of the little guy sticking it to the big guy. And who does not love that?

I am most excited for the Pirates' fans. It is a wonderful experience when a person loves a bad team for a long time and then that team turns it around.

I experienced this with the Braves. For most of the '70s and '80s, the Braves were bad. When I say 'bad,' I mean the team was awful in some seasons. Especially in the late '80s, the team seemed to flirt with 100 losses each year.

That all turned around in 1991 when the Braves won their division and played for the National League championship. Who did they play? Ironically, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates of the early '90s were excellent and provided the last whiff of baseball success for that franchise until now.

The Braves beat the Pirates for the National League championship in both 1991 and '92. The Braves are in contention for the playoffs this year, too. It would be additional irony if they met in the playoffs, and the Pirates got to even the score for what happened two decades ago.

I would not like that, but it would be a great story.


willie stargell said...

The Pirates have lost six in a row now. Thanks for jinxing us.

Chris said...

Ouch, the Pirates lost again tonight to make it seven in a row. Since I'm getting the blame for the losses, does this mean I get credit for their 54 wins?