Turning the page

Whenever John Russell is interviewed the day after a Pirates’ loss, he always invokes the phrase “you just have to turn the page.”  This is, admittedly, something I am not very good at in my life, and especially as it relates to my Buccos.  But anyone who’s read the last few entries of this here blog realizes that I am trying to make some changes in my life, especially in terms of the team and where they fit into it.

And so even though it hurt, the day after the trades of Freddy and Jack, to read Andy LaRoche’s quote in the paper, “It’s just part of the game…you can’t let it really affect you,” I know that he is right.  Because really, what good would it do to dwell on who has left?  How would that be productive, either for me as a fan or for me as a person?

So if you’re wondering what I’ve been up to these last eight days or so, the answer is, trying to turn the page.  It’s been a slow process.  I had tickets to last Friday night’s game, but I didn’t go.  I actually felt like I physically couldn’t.  I was too afraid that I would burst into tears upon seeing the Pirates take the field and not seeing either Jack or Freddy amongst them.  Staying at home to watch the game on TV, there was still a danger of waterworks, but just in front of my cats, who are used to me crying with some regularity.

But I did watch last Friday’s game on TV (and cried a little bit).  And last Saturday’s (when I got misty but did not shed actual tears).  By the time Sunday rolled around, I was ready to return to the park.  My friends Gary and Leslie and I had gotten tickets weeks ago to cheer Nyjer Morgan’s return, and I knew that the time had come.  I could sit at home and stew, or I could go to the park and cheer on these new-look Bucs.

Because here’s the thing about them — they’re actually kind of exciting.  On the whole, they’re very young, and Neal Huntington’s favorite word, “upside,” could be used to describe almost all of them.  Plus with virtually everyone using the last two months of this season as a tryout for next year, I’m thinking the performances are going to be strong.  How could they not be?  (I realize the irony of that statement now, in hindsight, as the Pirates have lost six in a row.  But there will be growing pains — we knew that going in.)

So I went to the park on Sunday with some trepidation, and I was fully intending to hold a grudge similar to the one I’d had upon Nate McLouth’s trade.  For the first few weeks that Andrew McCutchen was in the bigs and would miss a play that no centerfielder could make, I would sneer, “Nate would’ve had it.”  I had fully prepared my arsenal of such lines, and was fully ready to use them, only with the names “Jack” and “Freddy” inserted in “Nate”‘s place.  As I asserted to Gary and Leslie as we drove downtown, “I’ll clap for all of them, but I will NOT clap for Ronny Cedeno.”

Cedeno’s first at-bat was in the bottom of the second, and when he hit a home run to left, who was the first one on her feet?  Your dear Jolly Rog, guilty as charged.

The Pirates went on to lose the game, of course, in a disturbing fashion that’s become a trend this homestand — get involved in a back and forth battle, give up the lead in an avoidable way, then watch helplessly as the opposition slowly adds on.  But here’s the thing about Sunday’s loss — it didn’t really affect me.  There have been times in the past where a loss would sour my mood for the rest of the day, would make me all snarly, upset, and downright agitated.  But the new, turning-the-page-Jolly-Rog accepted the loss with a sigh, and a wish that they would have won, but a sense of gratitude for a fun afternoon with friends and a great time enjoying the beautiful weather.

This was, in part, because as we stayed afterwards to watch the kids run the bases (note to readers: if you live in Pittsburgh and go to a Sunday afternoon game, stay to watch this — it is absolutely hilarious), Paul Maholm came walking across the outfield.  He had started the game on Sunday, and things had gone well until the doors kind of fell off in the seventh inning.  Surely, I thought, he would be angry and upset with his performance and the game’s end result.  Instead, he was smiling — smiling! — to himself as he crossed the field.  Without being asked, he stopped to chat with some of the kids who were waiting on line, and patted them on the head before continuing towards the players’ parking lot under the Clemente Wall.  The whole time, a placid smile was on his face.  You could almost hear him whistling contentedly.

Well, this is new, I thought to myself.  If the starting pitcher…the losing pitcher…a guy actually involved in the game…doesn’t seem bothered by the loss, and isn’t letting it ruin the rest of his Sunday, then why the heck should I?

And so I didn’t.  Gary and Leslie and I had a leisurely stroll through downtown, and decided to stop for ice cream at Dave and Andy’s in Oakland.  (Another must-do for the Pittsburghers in the reading audience.)  I can honestly say it was one of the more fun Pirate games I’ve attended, and I know that I owe a lot of it to my new perspective.

This week was not one of those where the Pirates had a Monday off, so they’ve played five more games since then.  This non-stop action gave me the chance to really hone my page-turning skills.  Yes, I attended two of the games.  And yes, I watched two of the others on TV.  But I didn’t deliberately plan my evening around them.  When I went grocery shopping on Tuesday evening and got home a few minutes after seven, there wasn’t a breakneck effort to empty the car and get into the house by the first pitch.  When I did watch the games on TV, I consciously switched to another channel during the commercials, and sometimes flipped back to find I had missed several pitches of an at-bat, or the whole plate appearance itself.  When the game last night (which I attended) stretched into extra innings and the late hours (I’m sorry, but I can’t be out at 11 on a work night), I actually left.  Before the game was over.  And you know what?  The world did not spin off its axis.  No one accused me of being a lesser Pirate fan (something I’ve come to realize is that I always used to feel like I had to prove my loyalty, to an unknown and unnamed party or parties).  I didn’t feel disloyal, or guilty, or bad (at least not overly so).

I’m not saying all of this to toot my own horn.  But I have really enjoyed letting baseball be fun again.  I’ll still keep score every now and again, but not religiously.  (When I didn’t keep score on Sunday, I was amazed at how much time I had to really watch and enjoy not just the game, but the company.)  I’ll still do some analysis on the blog, but I must warn you that it might not be as in-depth as it has before. 

Because this is a new Bucco team.  This is a new Bucco blog.  The page is being turned.  And even though it sometimes gives me a paper cut (leaving the park tonight, I thought for a second of Jack and literally had to stop and catch my breath at the realization that he’s not on the DL or being given a night off; he’s really no longer a Pirate), these things tend to be surface wounds.  They might be painful for awhile, but then the skin grows in and everything is new again.

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