Ahh, the home opener. A chance to build up all of your hopes and dreams, pin them onto that single first pitch, and then watch them crash down around you before the end of the first inning. Year, after year, after year. ::contented sigh::
A love affair with the Pittsburgh Pirates is like being in an eighteen-year-long abusive relationship with a baseball team. They show some promise, convince you they’ll never break your heart again, and before you know it, it’s July and they’ve somehow figured out a way to mathematically eliminate themselves from the playoffs.
The Pirates have been terrible for as long as I can now vividly remember. However, the start of each season invokes in me this spring-fever-type giddiness, this Christmas-morning-like anticipation, that this, THIS, THIS!!1!!1! is the year. The year we turn it all around, the year we (dare I say it) break .500.
It goes back to the first year that Michael and I were dating. We met in March of 2006, and we were officially an item by the end of April. That year, we snagged a pair of free tickets to the Buccos v. Diamondbacks game on May 9. The Pirates won in glorious fashion, Ian Snell earning the shutout win, and instilling in us a sense of hope that Pirates fans should never, ever dare to feel.
We spent the whole summer obsessing over baseball. We went so far as to upgrade our cable simply so we could watch games at home (we were poor college students who realized that the money we were saving on basic cable was being wasted while we went to the bar to watch every game). We watched home game fireworks from the riverbanks. We overanalyzed pitching statistics and tried to plan games by calculating out the days my favorite pitcher (Snell) was playing. We got really good at doing impressions of the announcers’ monotone introductions of upcoming opposing batters. We made an entire series of ‘yo mama’-style jokes about Jeromy Burnitz and his ancientness.
And through it all, the Buccos still lost. A lot. Like, more days than not.
The next year, when we moved to Los Angeles, Jason Bay and Jack Wilson called to ask me if I wanted to be a season ticket holder. I was almost in tears on the phone, thinking how I was betraying them. The following year, we attended the Dodgers/Pirates game and sat with a row of displaced mill workers, watching our Buccos fall apart and wishing football season would just hurry up already.
But through it all, I’ve somehow never lost faith. There’s never been a time when I’ve totally thrown in the towel. I got close in 2009 when they traded Freddie Sanchez, Ian Snell, and Jack Wilson all in the same few day strech, but after hearing Jack get teary on the radio, I knew I had to be strong for my Buccos, I had to cheer them on and encourage them to believe in themselves, despite all odds.
So on a sunny Thursday, dressed in our favorite Pirates gear and armed with a new sense of optimism (still above .500 and a full series into the season? huzzah!), we boarded a bus and made our way to PNC Park to watch the Buccos take on the Colorado Rockies.
We knew the day would be awesome when we received our tickets. As you can see, we were in row ‘X’. This is a step up from the last home opener we attended, when we were in row ‘Y’. There is no row ‘Z’.
The city closes the Clemente Bridge to traffic so that you can walk across and hear that terrible saxophone guy who plays such a recurring role in the movie of my life. Michael always says, “Can’t we walk across the Warhol Bridge?” and I always say, “Today we must hear “Billie Jean” out of tune, we must take the Clemente Bridge.”
Here are the Pirates on the field for the National Anthem, which was played by the saxophone player from O.A.R, probably because they were worried about Christina Aguilera showing up and forgetting the words.
During Pirate games, they shoot hot dogs out of a potato gun into the crowd. There used to be a silly song sung by the Pirate Parrot that involved the phrase ‘catch yourself some meat’, but this year, they upgraded the event and brought out some old men playing the ‘Hot Dog Polka.’ I am going to work very hard on learning these lyrics so I am prepared for the next game.
The most exciting part of the game was the pierogie race. Here in Pittsburgh, we have four pierogies (Cheese Chester, Sauerkraut Saul, Oliver Onion, and Jalapeno Hannah) who race around the track. What’s best about it is that when they announce that the race is about to start, all you hear is everyone around you placing bets. I had my bet on Cheese Chester, and he won. I rule at picking pierogies.
However, unlike Cheese Chester, our Buccos could not hold it together. We lost to the Rockies, 7-1. The most interesting moment of the second half of the game came when some crazy guy ran onto the field and was tackled by several security guards. Thankfully, I was quick with my camera to capture the magic.
We also cheered really, really loud when one of our players walked, because it meant that someone was finally on base.
I think describing what made the game fall apart is best explained with an analogy used by my oncology professor in college. Her example was about the Cubs, but it fits the Pirates too. You see, cancer pain is like Pirates pitching. There’s never pitching (chronic pain), and then sometimes, you think there’s pitching, but there’s really not (acute pain). The home opener was an exercise in pain management, which came mostly through Quaker Steak and Lube wings and enthusiastically scanning the magnetic schedule we received for the best upcoming promotion nights.
By the end of the game, this was my score:
~ number of hits by the Pirates: 4
~ number of errors by the Pirates: 2
~ number of crazy men running onto the field in the 8th inning: 1
~ number of times I channeled my old softball days and shouted motivational Coach-Kenny-isms at the Pirates: 8
~ number of Quaker Steak and Lube Arizona ranch hot wings consumed: billions
~ number of times someone around us said, “Come on, Bucs!”: 35
~ number of times someone actually said, “Come on, Bucs!” but we couldn’t hear over the sound of the boos: 78
~ number of times we discussed Andrew McCutchen’s bum: 4
~ number of times I yelled, “Believe in yourselves!” at batters who didn’t listen: 12
~ number of times I regretted buying tickets to the home opener: 0
Despite our poor play, I still love this team. I still have faith that this could be the year. And no matter what, PNC Park is the most beautiful place to watch a game, even an afternoon game when the river is brown.
So Buccos, it’s still early in the season, and you can still have the fans on your side. Go forth and believe in yourselves, as we believe in you! 🙂