Can you hear it? That sound, muffled but persistent, is the sound of Pirates fans throwing in the towel. It started a few weeks ago with a couple here and there. Now it's an ever-mounting pile of despair.
Unbelievably, a magical season once filled with delirious joy and unexpected promise is teetering on the edge of that black hole jam-packed with 19 straight years of losing baseball.
This is a civic crisis almost on a par with the Steelers losing their opener, or for that matter losing any game at any time ever. Fading into memory are all those infectious Zoltan "Z" signs, pulsating crowds, glorious nights of fireworks and dinosaur rock acts and incidentals like good hitting, good pitching and good fielding.
I know I'll get criticized by the liberal elite for saying this, but I believe in Pirate Exceptionalism, although I'd prefer that our boys stop expressing that as exceptionally inept.
I'm here to bring a message of hope, as someone whose father was born in a hot-water flat in Manhattan Hell's Kitchen. The place didn't even have a doorman (choking up a bit here), but my grandmother was an equestrian along Ninth Avenue.
Using roads built with taxpayers' money, my father made his way to New Jersey, where I grew up without a chauffeur never dreaming that one day I'd live in Pittsburgh and become a Pirates fan.
So I am living testimony to America as a land of hope and opportunity, a land where every team is in first place on Opening Day, a land where a Pirates catcher can occasionally throw out a base stealer. OK, I'm getting carried away.
The point is, this is not over. I'm asking you to buck up, Buc-aroos. And to help you out, here are 19 reasons -- one for each losing year -- why you should not give up on the Pirates:
1. It would be taking the easy way out, which doesn't speak well of you and would seem to indicate a lack of character.
2. The Bucs have won more games this month than the Steelers, Pitt, Penn State and the Penguins combined.
3. Even though they have lost approximately 27 of their last 23 games, amazingly they are still within a few games of that last playoff spot.
4. The 2002 Oakland A's, led by Brad Pitt and that fat kid, won 20 games in a row, despite foot-dragging manager Philip Seymour Hoffman. You can look it up on the Internet under "Moneyball." Winning 20 in a row would be my recommended strategy for making the playoffs. The Bucs have 21 games left, so that would leave some wiggle room.
5. One word: Zoltan.
6. The Pirates are not hitters -- I mean, quitters. Quitters. They're not quitters.
7. Even a blind pig finds an acorn once every 20 years.
8. According to the Mayan calendar, a Pirates winning season is among the unique cosmic events predicted to occur before the world comes to an end in December. However, honesty compels me to also point out that the Mayans were the earliest known practitioners of the designated hitter, a clear-cut indicator of a defective culture.
9. Seriously, Zoltan.
10. We have the best ballpark in baseball, and, well, we have the best ballpark in baseball. (Repeat as necessary.)
11. We have the best fans in the country except when our teams lose.
12. Two words: Hisanori Takahashi. Hisanori Takahashi? Apparently you're not paying attention. He is a recently acquired relief pitcher who gives up runs at the rate of fewer than 15 per game.
13. The Pirates couldn't have a monumental collapse two years in a row. That would be as unlikely as facing a presidential election in economic crisis with not one but two passionately lackluster candidates. Seriously, what are the odds?
14. It's not like they lost three in a row at home to the reliably awful Chicago Cubs, the second-worst team in baseball ... What? They did just that over the weekend? OK, scratch that.
15. Did the French give up when their backs were against the wall in World War II?
16. Remember: It's about the journey, not the destination.
17. The Pirates don't want to repeat the mistake of peaking too soon, as they did in July. They're playing it just right.
18. I text-messaged God, who got diverted by the start of football season, which puts extraordinary demands on His time. He promised to get back on the Pirates case.
19. OK, can we all agree that if we promise to behave, we'll settle for the Pirates just finishing above .500?
Peter Leo of Squirrel Hill, a retired Post-Gazette columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.