Some called it a curse. Some said it was just a bad habit or rotten luck. Some blamed owners and management. And everybody thought it had gone on for what seemed like forever. That is what 20 years in the wilderness, 20 years of losing seasons, will do for a baseball team in the major leagues.
Until this week, young adults born here had never known a season that was not an exercise in futility for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This week it ended. No more curse, just a benediction.
When it happened it was almost an anti-climax. The Pirates showed promise last year but reverted to their losing ways after the All-Star break. Having broken newly hopeful hearts, fans this year couldn't help but be cautious even as the wins piled up. They flocked to PNC Park, but for much of the season many did not dare say out loud what they were beginning to believe, lest they offend the baseball gods and jinx the team.
No more jinx. The stake was driven through the heart of the success-sucking vampire on Tuesday night in Milwaukee, the final stroke being a pinch-hit home run in the ninth by Travis Snider to give the Bucs a 4-3 victory over the Brewers. That brought up the 81st win in a 162-game season. The Pirates would not be losers this year, but they were not yet winners.
The winning season will come soon enough. Even the disbelievers will have to believe.
Extraordinary days. Here we are in September and the Pirates are the ones holding the promise of great things while the Steelers, having lost all their pre-season games, could be the ones threatening mediocrity.
If 20-year losers can become winners, why should they stop there? The playoffs, the National League pennant, the World Series? Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but luxuriate in the moment when baseball became fun again in Pittsburgh.
For some of us, the wait has another dimension of sweetness. It comes as belated proof of a tough leadership choice that was bravely made. Had it not been, the Pirates and PNC Park might not be here. The stadium was built to ensure that the team would stay when it was in real danger of leaving. The ballpark opened in 2001 despite strident public opposition to taxpayer-supported stadiums.
Pittsburghers can be thankful that the naysayers didn't win that argument, which would have harmed the city's national prestige and robbed it of future joy, a worse curse lasting forever. Instead we have after 20 years a winning season and after 12 years a powerful reason to say, "We told you so."