Saturday Diary / I am a Pirates fan, and I can't help it
'I don't remember the day I first heard the name Clemente ... Being a fan has just always been part of me.'
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You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.
-- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"
Opening day for another baseball season is five days away. Which means that any day now I can expect to hear any or all of the following spat out with me and my kind in mind.
Dumb. Dupe. Fool. Stupid. Sucker.
You see, my name is Steve and I am a Pirates fan. Worse still in the minds of those who would believe compounding expletives is a sign of intelligence, I am a season ticket holder.
People are crazy if they think this team will ever win again. ...
The only way Bob Nutting and Frank Coonelly will get the message is if people stop going to games. ...
I've been a fan since I was in my mother's womb, but I haven't been to a game in [fill in time frame] and I'll never go to another one. ...
Nothing will change so long as suckers keep buying tickets. ...
How dumb do you have to be, to support that team?
As a mental exercise, I often form responses to that last question. But I invariably return to four words:
How can I not?
I don't remember the day I became a fan. I don't remember the day I first heard the name Clemente or began using my bat to tap dirt off my sneakers like Stargell. Being a fan has just always been part of me, like the faint sound of Forbes Field coming through a transistor radio perched just right on a back porch railing back in Ohio in order to catch the KDKA signal.
Fandom, real fandom, is not a choice. It has nothing to do with wins and losses, free agency, Bob Nutting, WHIPs, Paul Maholm's ERA, attendance, Ross Ohlendorf's salary per victory, bobbleheads, fireworks, the fact that Alex Rodriguez will by himself make more than half the Pirates payroll this season or who juices and who doesn't.
These are cause for irritation, frustration, exasperation and even vexation. But never separation. They could no more make me cease being who or what I am than they can make me cease being a white, middle-aged, Catholic, hi-tech deficient, failed pitcher who couldn't hit 90 on the radar gun ... and a Pirates fan.
Anyone who says they were one since they were 10 but aren't now or who will be back when the team starts winning again, there are names for them.
Front-runners. Bandwagon jumpers. Roots a mile wide and an inch thick.
A true fan would see those as scarlet letters on their replica jerseys.
These people? Who knows?
Can those who demand their world be in blacks and whites and wins and losses and dollar signs and bottom lines, things that can be seen and proved and measured and served through a drive-through window, be offered more?
Fandom is faith.
I respect more the Boston fan who, well before the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, inscribed the following on a prayer block in an ancient temple in Tokyo -- "May the Red Sox play always at Fenway Park, and may they win the World Series in my lifetime" -- than I do the Pittsburgher who had box seats for the '79 Series and so believes was bestowed on him the divine right of Barney Dreyfuss to determine what is right and wrong with the team.
I respect more the Chicagoan who created a Cubs-fans-only cemetery "to accommodate RIP die-hard Chicago Cubs fans who want to cling for eternity to World Series hopes" than I do the Pittsburgher who shells out $500 to golf with Bill Mazeroski and believes that gives him the right to tell me why he won't pay $20 to see today's Pirates and why I shouldn't either.
The Red Sox fan and Cubs fan get it.
Being a fan is not a life choice, but a way of life. Good and bad. No qualifiers. No addendums. No caveats. No riders.
Eighteen consecutive Pirates losing seasons has been no treat. But it's not bad, either.
It just is. As was the run of three division titles before them. As were the 1971 and 1979 World Series wins and the 1985 drug trials. You live and you breathe, you grow up and you grow old and you're a fan.
If a normal human cell has 46 chromosomes, you gain a 47th when you become a fan.
The fan doesn't know when it happened or how it happened, but he understands there was no choice involved. He didn't pick his team; that in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.
First Published March 26, 2011 12:00 am