A recent essay in Portfolio ("Baseball Lore: Bucs' losses add up to provoke pride instead of despair," Sept. 19) suggested that the Pirates' recent struggles have a greater unifying effect on the city than their successes.
Sure, we all joke that misery loves company, but actually living out that notion -- much less finding comfort in it -- has never been the mark of a true Pittsburgh fan.
I remember standing in the left-field rotunda at PNC Park for the 2006 All-Star Game, drinking Iron City along with a guy who proudly referred to himself as a lifelong Pittsburgher. I was on leave from the Army after a stint in Iraq and couldn't think of a better way to spend my time off.
About 20 years my senior, the gentleman regaled me with stories of the immense pride that pervaded Pittsburgh during the days of Mazeroski and Clemente, the Steel Curtain, "We Are Family," "Pitt is It" and other sports triumphs that were before my time.
I rambled on about growing up with Mike Lange and Lanny Frattare providing the soundtrack to a childhood fan experience that forged my Pittsburgh sports pride. I told him my tale of moving to multiple places around the world in adulthood, but with my pride still connecting me emotionally.
When I brought up the notion that outsiders primarily see Pittsburgh as a football town, he provided one of the most insightful comments I've ever heard:
"Pittsburgh isn't a football town, or a hockey town, or a baseball town -- it's a winning town," he gushed. "If these boys" -- he nodded toward the field, as though occupied by the Pirates that night instead of All-Stars -- "start winning again, people will be back cheering for them just as much as the Steelers or Pens."
Now, don't get me wrong, I've long been a subscriber to the notion that a true fan has the right to heckle his own team. When the Pens bombed out of the playoffs early again last season, everyone from Sid to Bylsma to the hot dog guy at the Consol found themselves on my list.
The infamous "Joe [Walton] Must Go!" chant years ago that disparaged the Steelers offense? You better believe I was part of it.
Just as parents will discipline their children because they care and want them to grow up right, I've shown my share of tough love to our teams over the years. The Buccos have, not coincidentally, drawn more of my stern affection than the others.
They've had me in fits in recent months, like in years before, due to their extreme inability to answer the call in so many ways when it's needed. What I haven't done and will never do -- and would bet a Primanti Brothers sandwich that no other true Pittsburgh fan would do -- is wish losing upon them. It goes against every fiber of our beings.
I speak from the viewpoint of someone who moved away, so maybe I don't get it, because I've somehow "sold out" on the hard life and as such, perhaps forfeited my fan card for the black-and-gold.
But one thing I can say unequivocally is that my pride as a Pittsburgh fan is about the excellence of our teams, and my loyalty is about the grit and toughness that the city represents, whether times are good or bad. It's not about finding comfort in the company of others who rally around a negative sentiment.
When I took my Terrible Towel to Afghanistan, I was proud to tell the other guys in my unit where I was from and who I rooted for. When I wear my Pirates jersey to work several states away on opening day, I'm proud of them, even as I good-naturedly volley jokes of futility.
When I'm talking sports with random people at random bars in random cities, I always bring up the fact that I'm a Pirates fan and that I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the World Series will again be played on Pittsburgh soil, whether it's in my lifetime or not.
The Pirates, at various times throughout their history, have been a great team. For many years most recently they've been a very bad team. This year they've regressed to being an average team that still has some gaping holes.
But year in and year out they're my team, and because of that I approach every game, every season, with a boundless optimism that unites me with other true fans who are proud to take ownership of them. Root for them to lose? Not this true Pittsburgh fan.
Jason Zemcik, a Somerset native who works in pharmaceutical project management near Raleigh, N.C., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.