I know about futility. I’ve spent much of my life caring about teams who embody the very notion; from the Pirates, to the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL, to the Tennessee Volunteers down south. For most of my life, the Pirates were terrible. I didn’t see a winning season until I was 17. The Blue Jackets have dwelled in the cellar for most of their existence up until more recently. The Tennessee football team is constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place. But I keep coming back. Many fans experience futility within the organizations they root for, but they keep coming back. Why?
I often wonder about the attachments people have to their chosen (or given, in some cases) team. Some get their allegiance passed down from a parent, others choose on a whim, and still others latch onto a team simply because they visited the city. Then, even when things get tough, they still show up, they still watch games — even if it’s not as great of a frequency of what it would be if the team was competitive.
I’m not asking why people aren’t jumping ship for another organization. That’s obvious enough; it’s awfully hard to latch onto a team after having been so deeply involved with another for “x” amount of years. What I’m asking is, despite the lashings given to the team on social media, why are so many still around?
Theoretically, it should be easy to simply hang it up and stop paying attention to what’s going on. But it so often seems that you can’t just stop checking the score at the end of the night; you can’t just stop tuning in on television — at least every once in a while; you can’t just stop showing up to the games. It’s almost like an addiction.
I can’t answer this question for everybody, but I can expound on why I still show up and continue to care. Firstly, it’s the same thing that people look forward to in real life: The hope of a better tomorrow. Despite the string of losses any number of my favorite teams might roll off, I know that next year — or the year after that, or the one after that — could be better, and so I stick around, waiting for that big breakthrough.
Secondly, it’s the memories. As long as the Pirates are in Pittsburgh, I’ll continue to go to games. I just don’t have it in me to “boycott” the team. I think back to my first time at PNC Park, walking over the Roberto Clemente Bridge. I remember being in awe of the beauty that could be found inside the stadium and how picture-perfect it was with downtown as the backdrop. I think back to when my wife and I trekked up to Pittsburgh for the first time, and then when we went back for our honeymoon.
People romanticize baseball all the time. It’s easy to do. It’s played outdoors, of course, in calm conditions, while a warm summer breeze blows through just after the sun has set. Of all sports, baseball is played in the most comfortable conditions.
As much as anything I just mentioned, I simply love Pittsburgh. I love the Pirates. I couldn’t envision my life without them. Dramatic? Certainly. True? Yes. The same goes for all my sports’ allegiances. I love Columbus and being in Ohio, I love the orange of Tennessee (which many would refer to as putrid), despite the laundry list of losses the last couple decades.
Humans are tribal, so we stick to our tribe. Allegiance is a hard thing to break, and to simply turn away from an organization, to turn away from “colors,” is a much more challenging undertaking than would appear to be the case. That’s why, if I’m able, I’ll drive up to Pittsburgh once again this summer just to see what I’m missing so much. Last year broke a string of consecutive visits to the Steel City which date back further than I can recall. I’m not trying to create a streak of years that I didn’t go to Pittsburgh; that I didn’t attend a Pirates’ game.
So, despite the bleak outlook of the 2021 season, I’ll be there. And when I’m not at a game, maybe you can find me at the Mattress Factory Museum, Heinz History Center, Primanti’s, or Pamela’s Diner in the Strip District. I don’t live in Pittsburgh, so much of this might be considered nostalgia for me, in a way, but I’m lucky to have an allegiance to such an incredible place — something I don’t take for granted and which I think about often.
To answer my original question: What could prompt fans to hang it up? Nothing, it seems, short of the team dissolving; not in my case, anyway. That’s probably true for many of you. I would ask for someone to explain why they’ve hung up their allegiance to the Pirates, but I assume they aren’t reading anything at Bucs Dugout — for obvious reasons.
And if anyone has any food recommendations for the area, I’d love to hear them. I’m always looking for new places when I return.