On the final day of a bittersweet Pirates season, Randy Lee Schrecongost wanted to confess his sin.
"I am the one everyone in Pittsburgh is looking for," he said in the concourse at PNC Park on Wednesday, as the Pirates prepared to close their season against the Atlanta Braves.
Mr. Schrecongost, an inveterate and superstitious fan, wears a Pirates cap when he works his farm in Armstrong County. He says it's 5 or 6 years old, but it looks like it dates to the days of Honus Wagner. It got sweaty and ripe in the hot summer weather.
So he washed it.
And not long after that, the Pirates washed out, free-falling from 16 games over .500 to their 20th consecutive losing season.
"I'm putting it on my shoulders," Mr. Schrecongost said of the team's collapse. "Don't give 'em my address. Just tell 'em I'm the guy to blame."
Somewhere, possibly, a fan who rearranged his bobblehead collection Aug. 9, when the Pirates' ship began to sink, is sighing in relief.
Fans who attended Wednesday's finale, won by the Braves, 4-0, said they were disappointed with the season's outcome but convinced that the team is making progress.
"I'm cautiously optimistic. They've got a lot of young players," said Doug Richards of Moundsville, W.Va., as he tailgated with co-workers from an insurance company. "I think they'll compete next year. It's nice to see things moving a little better. You don't always get a year when you're in the thick of things."
For Sean Irwin of Regent Square, it was one last chance to roll out the charcoal grill, sip some pre-noon beer and pitch a few games of cornhole in the parking lot.
"Regardless of the outcome it's been a pretty awesome season," said Mr. Irwin, wearing a Pirates' A.J. Burnett jersey in tribute to the team's best pitcher. "It's disappointing that we're not going to have a winning season but they've taken a lot of strides toward having a winning team. I don't think there's any way you can't be optimistic about next year."
He joined friends and family members for the concluding game because "we want to give them a standing ovation, a good end to the season."
Elsewhere in the lot, Shawn Kerestus of Penn Hills was taking a vacation day that was planned in headier days before the Pirates collectively walked the plank.
"I actually bought these tickets when they were winning, well above .500. The team kind of went downhill but I said ... I'll come out one last time," he said as he downed a can of Rolling Rock.
"They're well on their way to being where they should," Mr. Kerestus said. But asked if he would bet money on a winning season in 2013, he said: "No. We've been burned too many times to make that bet."
Lindsay Osborn of McCandless said she wasn't going to join the chorus of critics of the Pirates front office and management.
"I'm more here just to see the players. They're a fun, young team," she said. "My 2-year-old son loves Andrew McCutchen. I'm not going to stop rooting for them."
Brandon Rieck and Josh Fernandes, both Atlanta fans, drove six hours from Kitchener, Ontario, to see the final regular-season game of Braves' third baseman Chipper Jones' storied career.
"I booked these [tickets] the day he announced his retirement," Mr. Rieck said. Mr. Jones appeared as a pinch-hitter and singled.
Mr. Rieck noted that the Pirates' two decades of losing began with Sid Bream's slide across home plate that gave the Braves a ninth-inning comeback win in the deciding game of the 1992 National League Championship Series.
"They made a run at it and just didn't hold on," he said of the Pirates' 2012 effort. "They had a sniff at it, and it just slid away from them."
Inside the ballpark, stadium usher Al Jaklic of Ross, working Section 132, praised fans for sticking with the team when things got tough.
"I think they have a good future ahead of them with some good young players coming up, especially in the pitching area," he said.
Closing the ballpark for the year "is kind of sad," he said. "But it was a very enjoyable season."pirates
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868. First Published October 4, 2012 4:00 AM