Part of deciding to go teach English in a developing country was accepting that I wouldn't be able to watch the Pirates as I have the past twenty years of my life. But we were in the midst of an ugly season that was only getting uglier (2010), and sometimes, you can't let a team that has let you down for so long rule the direction in your life any further.
And then the unthinkable happened: despite a lackluster first month, the Pirates climbed back to .500, then edged into contention, and now I get back to Pittsburgh on the morning of Friday, July 22 just in time for the series that is being billed as the biggest series in PNC history.
So instead of taking my father and sister up on one of the best meals Pittsburgh has to offer, I forced them into a bar to watch Paul Maholm take on the Cards (only the second game all season I was able to watch; as from where I had been, games were in the middle of the night). I also went to the game on Saturday, while I spent a gorgeous Sunday camped inside watching the game on TV. So here are are some quick thoughts on a guy who finally got to see his favorite team play meaningful summer games in his home town, that is swept up in Bucco Fever.
* I had read and heard about how crazy this city is about the Pirates right now, and I was a little bit skeptical, despite my deep held belief that Pittsburgh is a baseball town in hibernation (or more truthfully, a front-running town who is spoiled with the Steelers and Penguins [not that this is strictly a Pittsburgh characteristic, more of an American trait: see US Women's Soccer Team]). It's true, though. I won't go into hyperbole, but when a weekend series in July trumps Roethlisberger's wedding in the news, I know this city has turned a corner...
* I've been optimistically waiting for the other shoe to drop. Part of it is me being a Pirates' fan and expecting the worst, and the other part of me is my inner Keith Law (the defense isn't this good, the pitching staff can't continue to get these results with these strikeout numbers, etc.). I will say that when I walked out of PNC after Hurdle pulled Veras in the ninth (also, contrary to my fellow Pittsburghers, I hate fireworks), I was thinking, "Yep, this is only fitting."
The Pirates looked completely overmatched in so many different ways on Friday and Saturday (an odd thing that my father and I noticed while at the game: every time the Bucs fouled off a ball it was a defensive two-rows back dying quail into the seats, while every foul ball by the Cardinals [specifically David Freise and Matt Holliday] it was an upper deck laser. I don't know if that means anything [certainly it has to say something about the Cardinals players' ability to swing as hard as they can and still make contact, or perhaps the counts the players found themselves getting into], but it was a stark contrast nonetheless), that I could only think of how unjust it would be for me to come home and the Pirates start playing Bucco Baseball as usual.
* And then Sunday happened. It was my first time being able to see the new Charlie Morton, and although his control was completely gone at times (to be fair, I thought he was getting squeezed as well), he didn't melt down like he did last year (again, is it pure randomness or some new attitude?). Ronny Cedeno was spraying line drives, Chase d'Arnaud stung the ball four out of five plate appearances (after looking pretty lost at the plate earlier in the weekend), the bullpen looked solid, and the defense was excellent. I guess it was just what I needed to regain faith before heading against an even better team in Atlanta in the upcoming early week. It was classic small ball that capitalized on the other teams mistakes, but instead of our first-baseman, pitcher, and catcher making mental mistakes that cost a game, it was the opponents. Bizarro world.
* That said, I'm still skeptical, because, after all, we're talking about the Pirates. But despite my disbelief, utter disregard for the number 82, and my masochistic desire for production over results (if you asked me to trade ten of our wins in right now for breakout seasons from Tabata and Alvarez, I'd have to think about it); I still don't mind this team outperforming everybody's expectations and continuing whatever they need to do to stay in contention. But why would I alter my long-term beliefs for this short-sighted satisfaction? It's the vibe in Pittsburgh right now. People actually clapped in the bar on Friday after the first out of the game, I was not surrounded by Cardinals fans on Saturday, and there's an employee wearing a Tabata tee-shirt at the Apple store right now. Again, Bizarro world, but I think I can get used to it....