October 9, 2013
PITTSBURGH, PA (Newhouse Sports Media Center) — “You probably don’t even remember Sid Bream, do you?” “I was a one year old when that happened… but I remember it clearly.” This was part of a conversation I had with a worker at a middle of nowhere New York state gas station at about 1 AM on Oct. […]
PITTSBURGH, PA (Newhouse Sports Media Center) — “You probably don’t even remember Sid Bream, do you?”
“I was a one year old when that happened… but I remember it clearly.”
This was part of a conversation I had with a worker at a middle of nowhere New York state gas station at about 1 AM on Oct. 7. It seems like when I am wearing Pittsburgh Pirates gear the first thought that jumps to most peoples’ minds is 1992. Atlanta Braves. Sid Bream. Game winning run. Last winning season.
That is usually the point where I have to leave the situation so I don’t throw up out of pure anger on the other person. But why, this time, did I just smile and pay for my Twix bar?
I got on the road from Syracuse, New York at 9:30 AM on Oct. 6. I knew I had a five hour drive ahead of me to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and another five hours back to Syracuse to be ready for class the next day. But what’s ten hours compared to a life of baseball disappointment?
My brother had called me to say he had a ticket for the Pirates game, and it was mine if I could make it down. It was his birthday. I think he wasn’t clear on the whole he gets the gifts idea. The Pirates were in a Game 3 of the National League Division Series game in October at home. The whole idea sounded weird to me, but I didn’t hesitate. “I’ll be there.”
The drive from Syracuse felt more like my drive from home. PNC Park was hundreds of miles away, but it might as well have been a short cab ride. I was pumped full of adrenaline, which wasn’t terribly safe looking back. I probably drove for much of the trip like Vin Diesel.
I pulled into the parking lot across from the Clark Building around 3:30 PM. The building used to be a place where Clark candy bars were made when my dad worked there years ago. The third floor of the building now houses the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, where I had worked the past few summers. I mostly did box scores for, among other things, the Pirates minor league affiliates.
I remember typing out Gerrit Cole’s stats when he was coming up through the minors, hoping he didn’t go the way of former first overall draft picks, like Bryan Bullington in 2002 and Kris Benson in 1996. That’s not even mentioning one of my personal favorites, John Van Benschoten. He was drafted eighth overall in 2001 after he led the NCAA in home runs. But the Pirates converted him to pitcher. Stranger than fiction.
Things have changed. Neil Walker drafted in 2004, Andrew McCutchen in 2005, Pedro Alvarez in 2008 and Cole in 2011. All huge contributors on this year’s playoff roster, with McCutchen possibly earning the National League MVP. That would be the first Pirates MVP since some guy named Barry Bonds in 1992, the guy who couldn’t throw out Sid Freaking Bream. It all comes back to that.
I walked past the front entrance of PNC Park and went around the outside toward the Clemente Bridge to meet my brother. I saw my cousin at Dominic’s bar. I saw an old friend on the street. There was a sea of black shirts and more people walking around Federal Street off the Bridge than I have seen my entire life.
It was October. The Buccos were in a playoff game. Did I mention that? It was a sellout. It was 80 degrees. Cats and dogs were living together. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Is this really happening?”
The Buccos and the St. Louis Cardinals were all tied up one game apiece before this pivotal Game 3 in a best-of-five series. Franciso Liriano, a legitimately good offseason pickup (which has been rare the past two decades), took the mound for the Pirates against Joe Kelly for the Cards. “KEEEELLLLLYYYY” chants would rain down upon the pitcher throughout the game.
The energy in PNC Park was unbelievable. The excitement was palpable. You would have thought Liriano’s first strike won the game. How could this be the same place I had gone to so many times before? Winning changes things a bit.
I would compare the crowd to someone who had been bullied. You take your shots, the insults, the shame. You lift weights and take boxing classes for 20 years waiting for your payback. Then, you finally come out in full force and insanity. Except now there are nearly 50-thousand people with you who had the same experience.
The Pirates started it off with a bang. McCutchen and Justin Morneau scored on a Marlon Byrd single in the bottom of the first. They weren’t just happy to be here. They were “fighting to win a World Series” as McCutchen would say after the game.
St. Louis responded with two runs of their own in the fifth. A sacrifice fly by Russell Martin gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 edge, until Carlos Beltran came up clutch with a 409 foot solo shot in the eighth inning.
This is where all the sub .500 seasons had trained fans to get ready for it to fall apart. But the crowd was different. This team was different. This season was different. It wasn’t “oh, here we go again.” It was “alright, let’s get another one.”
In fact, they got two more. Alvarez and Martin both came up with big singles to give the Pirates a 5-3 lead. If PNC Park had a roof, it would have been blown off. There had to be some sort of world record broken for high fives. Pittsburgh Pirates Pandemonium.
Here is what was going on after the Alvarez single (Yes, that’s my high pitched yell. Let’s Go Bucs was said so many times I started to lose my voice).
And here is the blurry reaction from my brother’s phone to Martin’s single.
Grilled Cheese Time. Pittsburgh closer and Baldwinsville, New York native Jason Grilli ran on to the field with Pearl Jam blasting behind him. He gave up a leadoff single but quickly got the ball back and went to work. Lineout, flyout, groundout, game over.
I had witnessed the Pittsburgh Pirates win a playoff game. Raise the Jolly Roger.
There was a sense of pure joy, euphoria, even relief. I honestly had thought many times that I would never see a winning baseball team in my life. If nothing else, I can always say I was there.
I’m attempting to go into a profession where you do your best to stay unbiased. That’s important, but I think it’s unrealistic to completely drop being a fan. I recognize I have invested a lot of time, money, energy and frustration into the Pirates, along with many others.
The Steelers and Penguins have been through their ups and downs, but both teams have won championships and put together great seasons during my lifetime. There was never a ton of risk involved in me, or anyone else, rooting for them.
The Pirates were never close to that. People hate the Steelers and Penguins. They pity the Pirates. I continued cheering for them through epic failures and “Operation Shutdown” and the recent collapses the previous two seasons. How many losses and “rebuilding years” can a fanbase take?
I thought of this season as the blackjack hand where the Buccos faithful went all in and finally won. The dealer busted this time. As Mike McDermott said in Rounders, “You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle… but you can’t win much either.” This was the big payoff, the playoffs.
On the drive home, I stopped at that middle of nowhere New York state gas station. I walked inside the store to grab a drink and some candy to keep me going late at night. I went to pay.
The woman at the register was wearing a Braves hat. On this night, in this random location, I ran into a Braves fan. Again, it all comes back. She saw me in my Pirates hat, and we started a conversation until we got to the question I mentioned.
“You probably don’t even remember Sid Bream, do you?”
“I was a one year old when that happened… but I remember it clearly.”
She began laughing, which would normally have made me want to shove that Twix bar in my eye. But I laughed with her. It was alright.
The Pirates would lose Game 4 the next day and now face a win-or-go-home Game 5 tonight. The Braves fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in their series 3-1. I guess we won’t see that Bream replay seven thousand times.
As I was heading back to my car, the cashier came outside to help another customer. We made eye contact. Right before I was about to shut the door, I heard her say, “Well, if we don’t win it, I sure hope you guys do.”
After all these years, all of the emotion, all of the losing, tonight’s victory, I could only think of three words: “Yeah, me too.”