When I was six years old, I decided I needed to have a favorite baseball team. This desire stemmed, I suspect, from idolizing my dad, who is, perhaps, the world’s biggest baseball fan. Using my six-year old logic, I decided to root for whatever team shared the most letters with my first name, Kate. The "K" was very important, and it was key that it be part of the team name, not the city name. In the pre-Diamondbacks and Rockies days, this stipulation eliminated everyone, save for the New York Yankees. They had everything, except for the "T," but that was negligible — it was my least favorite letter. And so, not realizing that I had inadvertantly chosen perhaps the most hated franchise in sports, I became a Yankees’ fan.
And so it remained for many years. I rooted passionately, and watched with glee as Charlie Hayes caught the final pop-up in ’96, as Scott Brosius played hero in ’98, and as the titles piled up in ’99 and ’00. My heart broke when Luis Gonzalez’s chopper bounced over Mariano Rivera in ’01. My parents’ photo albums are littered with shots of an adolescent me wearing pinstripes and a Yankees’ cap whose inside turned brown from overuse.
So what happened? Am I a turncoat because I gave up on the Yankees in ’05, a year after their historic collapse? I don’t think so. I don’t look at my change in allegiance as what I gave up — I look at what I gained.
I moved to Pittsburgh in the fall of ’04, and it was nearly a year later that I attended my first Pirates’ game. In the intervening years, I had largely lost my passion for baseball, and I still remember attending that game begrudgingly, only because two of my friends were in town and wanted to see PNC Park.
I don’t remember who won that first game I saw, but I do know it was the first time in years that I wasn’t bored by live baseball. The rest of that summer, with all of my friends from school at their respective homes and me alone in Pittsburgh, the Pirates became my friends, in a way. They were there consistently, and I could count on the games being on when I got home from work. The brilliant (albeit often off-topic) broadcasting of Lanny, Bob, Greg, and Steve kept me company. I think, in some ways, that I never forgot the sense of loyalty I got from the Bucs, even though none of them actually knew me.
As someone who values loyalty, I decided to return the favor in kind by becoming a huge Pirates’ fan. I defended them from their harsh critics. I kept watching the games, even when we were losing 10-1 by the fourth inning. Heck, I started to referring to the Bucs as "we"! And so it has only grown.
Last season, in Pittsburgh, there were a series of commercials designed to get people to come to the ballpark (and peppered with our terrible former catchphrase, "We Will," which is actually slightly better than the new — and completely uncreative — "Let’s Go Bucs") — the theme of the campaign was, "Why do you love the Pirates?" I practiced my answer diligently, in the hopes that the camera crew might show up at my door. Alas, they did not, but through the joys of the interweb, I can tell you why I love the Pirates.
I love them because they seem like real people. Because since the larger-than-life salaries aren’t there, the larger-than-life egos aren’t there, either. Watching the Bucs play is like watching a little league game (not because of the quality of the play, but because of the enthusiasm shown). I love them because a lot of them are my age, and I’ve been privileged to see many of their milestones in person (Matt Capps’ MLB debut, Jose Bautista’s first MLB home run, Ronny Paulino’s first MLB home run, Nyjer Morgan’s crazy, he-spanned-the-entire-outfield-to-lay-out-and-grab-that-ball catch against the Cubs this past year), so it feels kind of like we’re growing up together. I love them because they all seem to get along, and really be invested in the common good. Some days, I love them because it seems like no one else does. I love them because they led me to love Pittsburgh. I love the experience of going to games. I love the between-innings entertainment. I love that the concept of "pirate" is so easily marketable, and there’s so much that can be done with it. I love that being a fan allows me to use the word "yar" in everyday conversation. I love that the team is involved in the community, and shows up en masse for events, and is (or seems, at least) eager to meet and spend time with fans. I love them for trying. I love them for living the dream of every boy (and girl!!) who played ball as a kid.
Of course, the commericals were only about 10 seconds long, so I would have long been cut off. But it’s important for you, dear reader, to know that I am passionate about these Buccos, because that fact will infuse all future posts. I’m not saying I think they’re perfect, or blameless, or savvy — 9 million a year for Matt Morris? Are you kidding me? And Paulino, PLEASE learn how to catch a throw from the outfield — but I am saying that I believe in them, and I’m going to be studying every game of this season closely. And the results of that analysis will eventually find their way to this blog.