In a sentence, I'm a Pirates fan because of my father. But really, there's much more to it than that. Let's start from the top. My dad grew up on Long Island but spent his summers as a young boy with his godfather who lived in Pittsburgh. Born in 1966, he was fortunate enough to be growing up during a golden era for Pittsburgh sports and he immediately fell in love with the Steel Curtain Steeler teams and the successful Pirates of the late 1970's. Though he's never actually lived in Pittsburgh and instead has spent his entire life in New York and New Jersey, Pittsburgh stuck with him in such a way that made it so that I had no choice but to fall in love with the Steel City as well.
I was born in August of 1995, just in time to bear witness to (but obviously not remember) the Steelers losing to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. It follows that my earliest memories of sports are all Steeler related. From age 5-18, my father and I would make the 5 hour drive west from Central NJ every year to catch a Steelers game at Heinz field. If my memory is correct, my dad and I only witnessed one Steelers loss in those years, though to be fair at least half of the games were against the Browns. Hines Ward was then, and always will be, my favorite athlete, so much so that the year following his retirement I almost felt indifferent towards the team. With time that feeling has faded and now, I am as big a Steeler fan as anyone, but something about the Pirates has always been more alluring to me. Besides the facts that I played baseball in high school and 162 games > 16 games, I think it has to do with the differing levels of success each organization has experienced. It's always been easy to be a fan of the Steelers, yet as we all know too well, the same can not be said about the Pirates. This is especially significant in the context of my life. Living in Central NJ, I've been surrounded by Yankees, Mets and Phillies (all fairly/very successful organizations) fans my entire life. My mother's entire side of the family is full of lifelong Yankee fans and in the early years of my Pirates fandom (2005-2010), I could not count the amount of times they tried to convince me to make the easy switch. As I explain this, I don't want to portray myself as a martyr in a "Hey look, I'm such a good fan because I'm loyal to a crappy team" way, but I do truly believe that the years of losing early on made me the fan I am today.
Anyway, my first memory of the Pirates is my dad telling me about Rob Mackowiak's walk-off grand slam on the night that his son was born in 2004. Like most, I fell for Zach Duke's magical rookie debut in 2005 and he quickly became my favorite Pirate, along with Jack Wilson. Freddy Sanchez's batting title stands out as a highlight in my memory as do the dreadful days Jason Bay and Nate McLouth were traded. At that time, I had no understanding of prospects or the Pirates' handicapped financial position but those topics soon became my obsession as the losing seasons continued to mount. I remember making a bet with my Yankee fan friend in my freshman year of high school (2009-2010) that the Pirates would finish a season over .500 before we graduated knowing their farm system was on the rise at the time. Sadly, I graduated in June of 2013, so technically I lost that bet but my first tastes of Pirates success were sweet nonetheless.
Fast forward to college which for me was another formative experience in relation to my Pirates fandom. I just graduated from Vanderbilt a few weeks ago and in my four years there, the entirety of my friend group and I could not be more at odds in terms of baseball affiliations. Though this makes little sense geographically, a large portion of Vanderbilt undergrads come from the Chicago area and in fact, of my four closest friends, three were die-hard Cubs fans and the other a Reds fan. Though it's been fun yelling "Cueto, Cueto, Cueto..." at the Reds fan ever since 2013, the Cubs recent climb has been brutally painful. This same friends group and I have watched almost every Cubs vs. Pirates game together over the past 4 years and we certainly don't hold back in terms of getting on each other when our teams are down. Thus, when the Bucs fell to Arrieta in the wild card game and went 4-15 against the Cubbies in the following season it's safe to say I lost the 3 vs. 1 heckling battle by a wide margin (I actually had to get up and leave in the middle of some games). But again, it's this underdog position from which the Pirates always have had to battle that makes them so much more fun to root for in my opinion. I couldn't fathom being a fan of a team that just goes out and signs Lesters and Heywards, let alone is managed by satan himself (Maddon).
Today, I sit at home writing this in the middle of a month off that I am enjoying before I return to Nashville in late June to work full time. I am cherishing the final opportunity I'll have for a while to be able to watch every pitch of every Pirates game, no matter how frustrating the team has been as of late. I love explaining to my father how RBI's don't matter and trying to introduce him to the Sabermetric side of the game and equally enjoy watching games from a different perspective with my younger sister who is at the beautiful age where the occasional home run from Cutch (who is disappointingly still her favorite player) is all she needs to stay excited.
Thanks to everyone who got this far into this post. I realize it became more of a history of my time as a Pirate fan rather than a simple explanation of why I'm a Pirates fan, but that was intentional as I hope for it to also serve as my introduction to the community here. I've been reading this site for 5+ years, but only recently made an account and began to join in on the occasional game thread. I hope you enjoyed the story of my relationship with our beloved Buccos and I look forward to reading some of yours!