I don’t think I will ever forget the summer of 2012, a summer that many might one day fondly refer to as the summer of "Z." It can be called a wide array of things, and that is frankly each person’s own choice, but the gravity and importance that will be associated with this summer will remain consistent. To many, this summer will be like the successful conclusion of therapy or marriage counseling—as the summer that repaired a deeply fractured relationship between a baseball team and its city.
I wouldn’t particularly say that the movie Major League is at the top of my hierarchy of favorite baseball movies. That is a spot more reserved for films like Bull Durham or Field of Dreams. It has nothing to do with the movie existing in Cleveland, a city I don’t really like very much, but the two aforementioned movies do a brilliant job with encapsulating certain elements of the baseball narrative that is so magical. But now as I think about the movie and what it represented, it captured a certain element of the sport that we are seeing today with our team. It has nothing to do with how our team has its share of unorthodox heroes like that Indians team did, but that is an argument that can certainly be made. It has everything to do with the city. Seeing a city filled with disdain for its baseball team, filled with lost hope, and scattered around that city are the remaining few who have chosen to not give up, but are also cast aside like they have some sort of mental issue for believing. You see, I’ve never considered these fans coming to PNC Park in masses to be fair weather fans like some of you do. The truth is, they aren’t, in the traditional sense of the phrase. Many of these people coming out to PNC Park to produce 35,000-plus crowds are all patients of therapy—the therapy I mentioned above that this summer has been the catalyst for—the glue that is fixing the bond between the city of Pittsburgh and the Pirates. These are people who are not following the Pirates because it’s trendy or because it’s the thing to do, they are following the Pirates because they love baseball and have always loved baseball, and this summer is sparking that love that had been so deeply dormant in their lives. They are also kids and teenagers who have never experienced summers like this, summers that ignite a city and see the mysticism and beauty of baseball draw thousands to PNC Park. It’s a magical and unique kind of draw that can’t be duplicated by any other sport. The point I am trying to make is--that is exactly what the movie Major League does so well. It captures the love affair between a city and its baseball team that it had seemingly thrown away. Baseball has always been the sport people most romanticize about, the most poetic of sports, and this summer has been poetry in motion.
That is what this summer is all about. Of course, there are other sub-stories to this story—narratives that if I called them B and C plots would be almost demeaning. No, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the summer where Andrew McCutchen became the face of baseball and the MVP front runner. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Pedro and Garrets bombs, Neil's five hit games, Jason Grilli’s fist pumps, Drew Sutton’s homer or the 19-inning marathon the other day. The six hour epic that chased away as many short term ghosts as this season has chased long term ghosts. I also don’t think I’ll forget AJ Burnett. The has-been super villain of New York who was run out of town with pitchforks and torches, and chased 350 miles west where he could lay low and fall off the baseball radar like the 35-year old waste of money the Yankees perceived him to be. Now as September is right around the corner, he is a hero to this city. The grizzled veteran has grown to love the team and the city as much as they have grown to love him. He will finish his baseball career probably with only fifteen percent of it being spent with Pittsburgh, but he has forever endeared himself to the hearts of our fans. A lot of stories exist on this team, but his is perhaps the most symbiotic with the overarching narrative.
I definitely won’t forget that hand gesture either. You know the one I am talking about. The symbol that unified Pittsburgh and represented not how the city surrendered itself to a bunch of alien cultists, but to magic of this sport. Call the symbol played out and silly all you want, but there is no denying that it represents everything that is good with this summer. It will forever be the time marker of when new generations of Pirates fans were born, when a lost generation was rediscovered, and when that small faction of wide eyed dreamers from these past 20 years didn't feel so alone in the world. All hail Zoltan! Yes, all hail Zoltan indeed.
I have no idea what the yield of this summer will be in terms of results. We almost certainly will break that dreaded streak, which is a very symbolic marker of the cities baseball breakup. A collapse that prevented that would be devastating, but I’m not going to think about that or do I think it will come even close to happening. At this point, we are probably too far away from the Reds to capture the division and as upsetting as that might seem, it doesn’t make the summer a waste by any stretch of the imagination. The fact of the matter is, as we move closer to September the idea of the Pittsburgh Pirates playing playoff baseball is still very real. The hope is, even if we get just one playoff game in the wild card, even if we lose that game, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have made the playoffs. Just say that to yourself out loud for a second. Oh, and if we got the opportunity to play a home game, don’t get me started. I would be remiss if I said I didn’t care about if we won that game, of course I would want us to win, but playoff baseball would be happening in PNC Park, and by God, that would be one of the most beautiful moments these eyes have ever witnessed.