Baseball has always been a part of my life and I grew up with a family of Pirates fans so it is fair to say that has had some impact but that isn't the whole story as my passion for this team dwarfs that of my relatives. My baseball memory doesn't stretch too far back as the first thing I can recall with any detail is Cal Ripken breaking the iron man record. The first team I can recall with any substance are the 1997 Pirates and that is where my fandom really began.
As I'm sure you all know this team was dubbed The Freak Show and it just had a special vibe to it that caught my attention. My family made several trips out to the ballpark that year and I was in attendance for one of the games when the 9 million dollar team played the 10 million dollar man (Albert Belle). Fans were actually boasting this as a sense of pride which today seems a little weird in an environment where a large percentage of the fan base complains about payroll but for that specific series it was a sense of pride to see a team of well freaks sweep a team that employed a 10 million dollar player.
I wasn't in attendance for it but the magical no hitter from Cordova and Rincon is another stand out moment as I distinctly remember my father even getting into the game (he was a fan but never one who got to engaged in the action). In the 10th inning when Mark Smith came to the plate I recall him saying he is going to strike out and then boom the ball was gone, the game over and the only no hitter I have ever seen the Pirates throw was over.
The Mexican pitching staff was another great draw for me as I recall interviews of them always being held with at least two of them present and I felt there was a great sense of camaraderie there. I recall the intense race with Houston rooting for them to lose and checking the paper everyday to look at the standings. I don't recall the trade for Shawon Dunston but I remember this new guy joining the team and hitting the cover off the ball and thinking he was going to be the difference.
At the end of the season I recall hoping that the last series against the Astros was going to give the Pirates a chance to catch up but alas it never reached that point. The exciting jovial team still got my baseball juices pumping and I couldn't wait for the following season and though that started a very rough stretch that same feeling has been there every year, anxiously awaiting the return of the Pirates. Every year I was hoping for a return of the freak show but alas I have yet to connect with a team quite in the same way. The 2013 team probably came the closest and I actually consider attending that wildcard game to have been the end of my childhood (yes I was a very old child with a college degree, a full time job and I was engaged to be married but I was still a child in some sense) but it still wasn't the same. That team just had a magical feel about it that I struggle to describe or I think fully even appreciate.
I do occasional curse that team thanks to all the misery it would eventually put me through but honestly I can't imagine life without baseball or baseball without my Pirates. The 1997 freak show was a special team that came around at the right time to lure me into the game and it did just that .