Baseball Lore: Bucs' losses add up to provoke pride instead of despair
I have to be honest about something. I don't want the Pirates to take first place.
I don't want them to make the playoffs. I don't even want them to play .500 baseball. I want the Pirates to lose. Badly. Hear me out.
Though I was a child when Pittsburgh entered its second Renaissance in the 1980s, I remember the "old" Pittsburgh. My parents often described to me the black skies sooted with ash and smoke, the black windowless furnaces obscuring the waterfront, shedding their waste into the inky waters of the Monongahela and Allegheny. Then, they described the joblessness, the poverty and despair as the factories closed.
As I grew up, I witnessed the transformation. I watched the construction crews as they erected new spires, this time of glass, slicing through a hard-earned blue sky.
At night, people gathered to stand on protruding tongues of concrete on Mount Washington and gaze at the lights. At the Fort Pitt Tunnel, we slowed to see our valley, the surrounding fort of mountains; then we crossed a bridge, over the river moat, and entered a new kingdom of technology, filmmaking and hospitals.
This year something shocking happened. Lifelong friends from Washington, D.C., visited because they wanted to see "this Pittsburgh" that people were talking about. We toured the city, visited the unique and charming neighborhoods, took note of the vibrant art community, the exciting restaurants and the green spaces.
The friends were impressed. Yet, I realized, like Dorian Gray, I felt slightly uncomfortable with this pretty, popular new city peering back at me in the mirror. I am a Pittsburgher more so because of the old Pittsburgh. My pride is from having stayed, in having suffered the accrued grit of having lived through the ugly, hard, bad years.
We Pittsburghers are loyal; our city love doesn't wax or wane with our city's beauty or reputation. If the sky turned back to black, I'd remain. Wouldn't you?
And that embrace of our hardships colors my attitude toward the Pirates as well. One of the few things that has remained comforting and consistent in this beautiful, reinvented Pittsburgh is verbally abusing the Pirates. I am glad that I have little memory of being part of a winning Pittsburgh baseball team.
I was born post-Roberto Clemente. I have foggy 5-year-old awareness of the last really great season, cheering Willie Stargell and singing "We Are Family" like I was part of Sister Sledge.
I've experienced the brief rush of potential with the Pirates once before. It was in the 1990s and I got precipitously excited. Hopeful. Then, at the end of the 1992 season, two-time MVP Barry Bonds departed the team, lured by the bigger salary of a bigger city.
Depressed by the prospect of winless days, I subsequently refused to watch baseball. A "fair weather fan," my brother rightly called me.
As the years of losing marched on, however, I noticed something beautiful. Losing brought the sweet warmth of commiseration. I was as united to my fellow Pittsburghers by the Pirates' sad plight as I was by the Steelers' triumphant rings. This was the moment when I began to embrace losing.
Players were disloyal (or loyal to the money), but fans were forever. And there were no fans in the world like Pittsburgh fans.
Even after our early-summer success this year, I could not detect a speck of gloating on Facebook. One day, a friend who's a diehard fan posted, "Good morning. The Pirates are in first place." Comments of reaction included: "I figure I should start watching again in late August," "Sign of the apocalypse" and "Not in baseball, surely."
People muttered about the wins as a stepping stone for the next, expected loss, and yes, those losses have come.
Man, how I love the pessimism, the grousing, the downright miserable, crotchety, death grasp on negativity. If we're gonna win, let's be as upset as we possibly can.
I personally like how fully losing brings out the Pittsburgh character. Nothing showcases our loyalty and grit like losses. I want the Pirates to lose, the stands to fill, and for Pittsburghers to show the world the kind of people we are, the kind Pittsburgh makes us -- the stuff of Old Pittsburgh.
But if somehow we start winning again, I'll be OK. There's always next season.
First Published September 19, 2012 12:00 am