There are rules to the sports fandom we dedicate our free time towards. A “sports commandments” if you will, that highlights and itemizes whatever consideration you have about your particular team.
These rules exist in the air like oxygen. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Number one on this list has to be team loyalty. You only get one team per sport, period. One team that you follow, celebrate and let emotionally touch you. You can follow other players who don’t dress for your squad, and even root for other teams, as long as they’re not playing “your” team. Win or lose, you ride with these guys and deal with the consequences together. However, there is an escape clause. For special circumstances, if your team is consistently horrible, you can state your case and leave it all behind. If any Pittsburgh Pirates fan jumped ship within the last two decades, we should all be willing to give them a pass.
Last night, in a 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs the Pirates secured their first playoff berth since 1992. Do you understand what that means? Bill Clinton hadn’t even been elected yet, The Last Of The Mohicans was the top movie at the box office and Columbia jackets were the official selection of black teens at East Coast high schools everywhere. Point being, it was pretty much a generation ago and legions of Pirates fans have had to sit and wait for a competitive squad. This can test the loyalty of anybody. Up until last week, they Pirates hadn’t even won as many as 82 games, meaning, every year they finished under .500. A stat like that can deflate a fan base and make people give up.
Honestly, you couldn’t give any of these people grief either. Sports are supposed to be a relief from the bloody knuckles and acid reflux of life’s daily grind. Sports are supposed to be fun, something you consider with a certain bit of levity. Regardless of your level of passion, sports aren’t supposed to be a weight on your shoulders. But for Bucs fans, what else could it have been?
Their last appearance was in the ’92 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, the infamous “Sid Bream slide” game. Powered by the likes of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek, the Pirates were a no-joke squad. In Game 7 they were up 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning, when unfortunately for their fans, they lost their grip on immortality. Bream, a lead-footed 1st baseman for the Braves, scored on an outfield single from second base. He beat Bonds’ pre-steroid throw and well, two decades later, here we are. For that to be the last playoff appearance is especially hurtful for Pirates fans. Sure, you can say that their pain is buffered by the Steelers usual success, but two decades is still a lot for any populace to endure.
For the fans that stayed loyal, I’m sure this is especially sweet. Can you imagine what the long time season ticket holders are feeling right now? After a 21-year winter, spring has arrived in Western Pennsylvania. Now, imagine if they make the World Series.