Baseball Lore: Pirates season looks fine through eyes of 3-year-old boy
We now have some time to look back -- the sting has subsided, and the Band-Aid has been ripped off.
So many write the easy Pirates story of 20 years of futility. I have a different story. I'm an eyewitness to the success of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.
I am a weekend Pirates season ticket holder. I'm passionate about the Pirates and about baseball in general. For me it is a beautiful game that is both art and science -- so fluid, yet with the precision of a myriad of statistics that no other sport can match.
It is the only professional sport that has not fundamentally changed during its existence, which began when the nation was embroiled in the Civil War.
I saw my first game as a 4-year-old boy mesmerized by Johnny Ray and Tony Pena. Thirty seasons later it is my son who fell in love with baseball.
My son is 31/2, and like all children his age, Ryan is captivated by TV. This spring and summer he recognized for the first time the miracle of daily baseball exposure. For this city it was ecstasy and agony watching the Pirates, but for him it was only ecstasy.
It was the summer of a near batting title and a run at MVP honors for Andrew McCutchen, plus lots of homers, a 19-inning win, deadline deals and collapses.
For Ryan, it was simply about players he knew as Cutch and A.J., Pedro and Neil and taking pride in just pronouncing Rod Barajas' name.
For him it was the summer of Zoltan and flashing El Toro with his little fingers during countless nights on the couch and his five games at PNC Park.
It was the summer he also learned to play baseball -- quite well for his age. He relentlessly begged to play catch, and when his mom or dad said it's time to finish, he then begged for grounders.
It's the summer when he learned to play catch with himself while still being able to imitate Greg Brown's calls, and when he asked as soon as he woke up, "Did the Pirates win?"
This was the year that baseball meant so much that both a cheese stick and a french fry could become bats in his hands, or he would swing a wooden ruler at a wall corner with perfect form to -- yes -- just hear the crack of its impact.
He even asks to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on long car rides.
But as the dog days of August descended and baseball reality fell like autumn leaves in September, I and the rest of Pittsburgh were bitterly disappointed. All the minutiae of reasons that I could analyze as to why this season would be different vaporized like a late-inning lead. But it wasn't a failure. Baseball is back in a big way.
We are angry because we didn't make the playoffs, but it was a resounding success because Ryan is in love with baseball -- and not just because I am, but because of the Pirates.
PNC Park is the only Pittsburgh establishment where he doesn't need to check out the restroom at least twice. As long as he has his hot dog and lemonade, he is content never to move his eyes from the field.
On the morning of game No. 162, which we were about to attend together, he dressed in his baseball shirt four hours before game time and clutched the bag of peanuts with the Pirate logo before leaving home.
On that final afternoon when many were there to witness the grace of the Braves' Chipper Jones as a future Hall of Famer or to see some boosted stats or merely just to heckle, it was Ryan that showed us all up.
During the eighth and ninth innings, once the outcome became inevitable, many fans left. Many who stayed chose to ratchet up their comic vitriol aimed at the Pirates.
Ryan, too young to understand the team's history or what those insults meant, needed to act, so he began to wave his miniature Jolly Roger as high as he could reach from my lap. Catching the eye of two rows of fans, without his uttering a word, he got them to stop heckling. Instead they hollered, "We're with you buddy, raise our flag!" and they applauded with genuine approval.
That's Pittsburgh. That's the 2012 Pirates. That's Ryan. I'm so deeply proud of all of them.
First Published October 19, 2012 12:00 am