This baseball season really tested my Pirates fandom. For six years I’ve followed the team (a relative baseball baby, I admit), never letting a losing record dampen my enthusiasm. Commiserating about ownership and the team’s performance felt like a Pittsburgh rite of passage, and a stalwart standby to have in the conversational toolkit. This season seemed especially rough, however, as if collective patience had been tested past the point of credulity.
In August an 18 year old fan got a photo op with owner Bob Nutting, revealing a shirt with the directive to “sell the team.” Later that month the Red Sox broadcast referred to the Pirates’ lineup as a “hodgepodge of nothingness,” and “pathetic.” Shortly after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an editorial with the pointed title, “Are you proud, Bob Nutting?”
I started this season with an appreciation of new features at PNC Park, and I still appreciate these additions. But my trips to the ballpark this year also revealed things that had been lost from the stadium (i.e. the out-of-town scoreboard, sensible bag policies, and gluten free food options at the concessions). Last year I was so excited for October games, and I attended all of the games that month. This year I had run out of interest in heading back to the ballpark by the end of August. It was only a gift from my former roommate and friend-of-the-blog that got me back for a final outing.
He had got me a ticket for the October 4th game, the Pirates’ penultimate game of the season. Since this series was against the Cardinals I thought that at the very least I might see Albert Pujols make history by surpassing Babe Ruth in all-time RBIs, but he ended up passing that milestone the night before. So I admittedly didn’t have much enthusiasm for the game, a sentiment that was evidently shared by the “We hate Bob Nutting” stickers that I passed on my way to the stadium.
I was feeling more charitable by the time I got to PNC. There’s just something about Fall foliage around the ballpark that gets to me.
Once I was at my seat the transformation was total. I was directly behind the Pirates dugout, with a view of the stadium that I’ve never had at PNC Park.
Sitting behind the dugout my cynicism melted away immediately. I was directly across one set of the dugout steps, so players were traveling to and from the field right in front of me. Being so close, I was just feeling starstruck in the presence of my favorite players rather than griping about team standings. Gone was any sense of this game as a perfunctory penultimate outing with zero season stakes; I was just caught up in the drama of the game that was being played, and that was all that mattered.
It actually took me a while to figure out how to get to my section, and I’m glad that I got some crabfries before finding my seat because once I was stationed I didn’t move out of spot for the entirety of the 10-inning nearly four hour game (it was also my first time having crabfries, a PNC Park concession staple that I have long been curious about).
Even though Pujols wasn’t going to be setting any new records it was still cool to get to see him at the end of his historic season (and I guess this game was also his final regular season at-bat).
The couple sitting to my right were clearly season ticket holders who knew the usher and other folks in the section. Two seats to my left was a former coach for the Pirates’ AA affiliate Altoona Curve, so he knew many of the players and was interacting with them from the dugout throughout the game. Sitting directly next to me was a woman from Osaka. She was taking a vacation after leaving her previous job of 25 years and before starting her new job. Her whole vacation was traveling to Pittsburgh and attending these three games against the Cardinals. I asked if she was a lifelong baseball fan and she told me that she didn’t get into baseball until she was 30, which is something that we have in common. She wasn’t a Pirates fan, and in fact doesn’t follow any MLB team in particular, but she said that Pittsburgh seemed like a particularly fascinating city to visit.
I may have missed Pujols’ RBI milestone by one game, but it was still a historic night: it was the Pirates’ 100th loss of the season, which makes this their first consecutive 100 loss season since the 1950s. Yet this didn’t matter to me at the time. For the duration of the game I was only concerned with what was happening on the field. After all the frustration of this season I’m glad I had one more night out at the ballpark, and especially one that helped me get lost in the love of the game.