Good grief, are we ready to put our faith in Bucs?



A couple of springs ago, I compared being a Pirates fan to chronic watching of "Gilligan's Island." We all hoped to finally see an episode where the professor can make a radio out of a coconut and get everyone off the island of Most Consecutive Losing Seasons in the History of Professional Sports.

Now, as I watch the way fellow Pittsburghers react to what has been a marvelous baseball season, I see that I made the wrong pop-cultural reference. It's clear now that all Pirates fans are "Peanuts" characters in one way or another.

Think about it.

Healthiest amongst us are the Schroeders. The boy likes baseball well enough; he's Charlie Brown's catcher and maybe his best friend (no strong competition there). But Schroeder has other interests. When the game's over, he can forget all about it by playing Beethoven symphonies on his little piano. He's at peace.

I haven't met many Schroeders this season. I've met passels of Lucys, though.

Lucy's a screamer. Charles M. Schulz, the comic strip's creator, once described Lucy Van Pelt as an outlet for his dark side. She angers easily. Her default position is annoyed. So in a Pirates season that's already more than 120 games long and has yet to see any stretch where the team loses more than four games in a row, the Lucys will still seize enthusiastically upon any loss and say something like:

"See? See, I told you. Same old Pirates. We're never going to have a winning season. You were all blockheads to think they would ever change.''

There are legions of Lucys. Just check the online comments below any game story on the newspaper's website after a Pirates loss.

Easier to take are the Snoopys. They just sort of wandered up this year and joined the fun. Lured in by the buzz around the team, they'd just as soon watch the pierogi race or start the wave as watch the game. Yet they'll get as excited as anyone during a rally, maybe even make themselves the center of attention as they do a victory dance or high-five the room.

Some people find the Snoopys annoying. "Bandwagon jumpers,'' they're called, as if that were a put-down. But Snoopys know jumping is fun and, like the Schroeders, they know baseball is just a game. It's not life or death.

They're not Charlie Brown, in other words.

"Baseball is life, I'm afraid,'' Schulz once wrote in a long essay in the voice of his long-suffering, ageless protagonist with the big round head. "But the baseball season is hard on me. I don't sleep at night thinking about the next day's game.''

There are many Charlie Browns among us, and I worry sometimes that they've grown too comfortable in their suffering. They rejoice, certainly, when their team is in first place, but a neurotic, subconscious part of them is afraid to cut loose from the sodden sameness of two decades of losing. They cannot fully believe that all this winning is for real, and they secretly believe that the annual meltdown will begin with the very next pitch.

More resolute are the Linuses. These true believers are few among Pirates fans. Sometimes you think you've spotted one and then he vanishes. The Linus in that fan had the lifespan of a mayfly, killed in another extra-inning loss to the Cardinals.

But just as Linus sits in the pumpkin patch every year on Halloween night knowing, despite the ridicule of friends, that this is the year the Great Pumpkin will appear, there are scattered Linuses in greater Pittsburgh who know this is the Pirates' year.

The baseball gods will reward him, he believes, because his pumpkin patch -- or TV room -- is the most sincere. And the Great Pumpkin -- I mean the baseball gods -- will shower him with a division championship. Or at least a wild-card spot in the playoffs. I mean, come on, is that too much to ask?

If it is, don't worry. It's almost football season, and I really think this is the year that Lucy lets Charlie Brown make that kick.

pirates - brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947. First Published August 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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