The Trib: Pirates Fans Don't Know What It's Like

Bumped. - Charlie

Check out this unintentionally amusing column in the Trib, which blasts Pirates fans for, uh, well, you'll have to just read it. I'm going to go Fire Joe Morgan-style on this one, because the article just begs for it.

It's a courageous act, celebrating baseball in Pittsburgh, considering the Pirates suffer from one of the lousiest fan bases in all professional sports.

There, I said it. And, no, I'm not about to backpedal or apologize for characterizing most of the team's followers as whiny, loudmouthed louts who are too insecure to appreciate what being a fan is really about.

To make my case, I'd like to compare the difference between the ways fans of stick-and-ball sports -- a category that includes baseball -- approach their favorite games, to the manner in which fans of my personal favorite sport, superbike racing, do...

Whether viewing superbike races on TV or from the grandstands or paddock, you will never find one of us screaming "You suck!" at a racer.

I'm not sure if the writer is aware of this - probably not - but the Pirates aren't the only team whose fans yell things like "You suck." In fact, fans of all major sports teams do this. It seems downright weird to single out Pirates fans for doing this, especially when they Pirates demonstrably do suck more than just about any other major professional sports team.

We do not, by habit, turn our backs on racers at the start or finish lines because of a lack of winning results, as Pirates' "fans" did last summer, and we do not view ourselves as part of the team.

Well, given that superbike racing isn't really a team sport, that's probably good. And just out of curiosity, how many times would the protest organizers have had to say that the protest wasn't about the players before people like this guy believed them? Even Jason Bay seems to get it.

It is endlessly fascinating to hear football or baseball fans lamenting that "we lost" after their city's team is defeated, when the fan's contribution to the team effort involved chugging cans of Coors Light while munching on bags of Doritos.

Are Doritos even sold at PNC Park? Just curious. I know you can bring outside food to PNC, but come on.

[Superbike racing fans] don't call 2006 Moto GP champ Nicky Hayden a bum when he crashes, because many of us know what it feels like to be thrown off a motorcycle at triple-digit speeds.

By comparison, how many Steelers or Pirates fans who rail against the team's performance have even touched a football or baseball after age 12?

Yes, I'm sure that fans of superbike racing actually know what it feels like to be thrown from a motorcycle going 120 MPH, while Pirates fans have no idea what a baseball feels like.

The mind reels when thinking about the logical consequences of what this guy thinks attending sporting events is like - does he think that the Pirates are separated from the fans by an enormous plastic bubble? That baseballs don't leave the field of play all the time? That they aren't available at any sporting goods store? I imagine a world where kids don't bring gloves to baseball games, but they do bring stretchers to catch flying bodies at superbike events.

Also, it's generally considered poor form to boo a player when he gets injured. It doesn't matter what sport you're watching. If Jeromy Burnitz had to crash a bike at 120 MPH to fail, we wouldn't boo him.

When one of my favorite racers, Australian Troy Bayliss, crashed at 170 miles per hour last year, grinding off one of his pinky fingers, I didn't scream at him for incompetence. There were no ESPN superbike racing talk shows to phone repeatedly about whether Bayliss would ever return to form and no Internet chat rooms to gather in.

There weren't any ESPN shows about whether this guy would return to form because no one cares about superbike racing.

Instead, we race fans simply got on with our lives as if nothing happened.

Going on with your life and acting "as if nothing happened" after watching someone crash a bike at 170 MPH and grind his pinky off doesn't mean you're classy. In fact, it may mean you have little regard for human life and not nearly enough sympathy for human suffering.

Speaking of which, there is surely some element of superbike racing fandom that has to do with getting off, J.G. Ballard-style, on watching some poor schmo crash a bike going 170 MPH. Anyone who denies this is simply ignorant or lying, and a large part of U.S. sports fandom, from football to hockey to UFC, has to do with the ugly part of human nature that really likes brutal and vivid displays of violence.

This is not to say that there aren't elements of boxing or NASCAR or whatever that are interesting for other reasons, or that contact sports have no aesthetic value. But let me put it this way. I went to my first NHL game in about ten years last week, in Anaheim. You can probably imagine what Anaheim hockey fans are like. Most of them are there to see fights, and couldn't care less what's going on in between them. This is disturbing, and if I were looking for problems with sports fans, I would begin to look there. Or I might wonder about the fact that the Ducks had girls in bikini tops and skates out there during commercial breaks cleaning up ice shavings. Or I might wonder about the ubiquity of advertisements for horrible, fattening food, like the mini-blimp that flew within feet of our heads dropping sandwich coupons.

In the right context, I have no problem with bikini tops or sandwich coupons. But most American sports now resemble Chris Bachelder's excellent novel Bear vs. Shark, in which an alienated American family drives hundreds of miles to see a much-hyped but extremely brief "fight" in which an animated bear and shark rip each others' appendages off. For most Anaheim fans, a hockey game basically is that, but with an extra 57 minutes of hockey thrown in. The Super Bowl and other major sporting events are now little more than heavily-commercialized excuses for organized violence.

If I were looking for problems with sports fandom, I might start there, not with a sport that, despite many problems, is leisurely and largely violence-free.

When I turned on the TV a few weeks later to see Bayliss win a race -- with his injured digit wrapped in a bandage -- it was a fine show of self-determination and grit, and not, as stick-and-ball sports fans would have it, an occasion to head for the nearest sports bar to pound beers and talk loudly about the incident until even the bartenders tire of our company.

This problem here really seems to be that baseball fans exist. If superbike racing fans existed, I'm sure they would bother bartenders too.

There literally isn't a sentence in this column after the first two that makes sense. Really nice work, Trib editors.

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