The joy of having a baseball team
Having long had a soft spot for the Pirates, they've finally become my team
Let’s talk World Series.
Top three I lived and died with.
• Maybe the Reds and Red Sox, ’75, wasn’t my first sports memory.
All right, I looked it up and it turns out I remember Sports Illustrated’s 1975 College Football Preview cover, Oklahoma chosen to win it all again, arriving a month before the series.
But it’s just a cover.
Television’s pictures moved.
Nor can one be all-in emotionally on a magazine cover taking a moment to digest, when a World Series over almost two October weeks becomes your whole life.
So, yeah — officially — the Big Red Machine on one side and Jerry Remy, Rick Burleson, Dwight Evans, Yaz, Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant and Carlton Fisk waving his home run fair on the other remains my first sports memory.
• After that, ’91, Braves and Twins.
By that time, true story, I might have been 700 watched games into my full-on love for Atlanta’s baseball team.
Game 7 brought the worst moment of my up-to-then lifetime of sports fandom, when Lonnie Smith — “Lightning” Lonnie for you 1970s All Sports Stadium aficionados — perhaps because he lost the ball in the Metrodome’s white ceiling, paused rounding second base on Terry Pendleton’s left-field wall shot no Twin outfielder had a chance of catching.
The pause left Smith at third base, not in the dugout having scored. There were still no outs but of course he was left stranded, costing the Braves the series and keeping Minnesota pitcher Jack Morris’ shutout on the table, one he picked up working 10 full innings, a performance he doesn’t reach Cooperstown without.
• After that, ’79, Pirates and Orioles.
Willie Stargell and Earl Weaver.
Chuck Tanner and Eddie Murray.
Between Stargell, Dave Parker, Bill Madlock and NL leading base stealer Omar Moreno, Pittsburgh appeared to have the offense.
In Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan, Steve Stone, Scott McGregor and the timelessly great Jim Palmer, Baltimore appeared to have the pitching.
I remember Stargell’s bat waggle most: like a wheel, turning vertical circles until the pitcher began to wind.
It became my waggle.
I don’t remember any Game 5 details, only that the Pirates won to pull within 3-2, games 6 and 7 waiting back in Baltimore and somehow I knew Pittsburgh couldn’t lose, that its momentum would carry.
John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve combined on a Game 6 shutout, before Stargell went 4 for 5 with a home run and two doubles in Game 7.
I’ve had an affinity for the Pirates — or as I often call them, the “Bucs,” because buccaneers are pirates and that’s what Braves play-by-play man Skip Caray called them and I thought it was cool 40 years ago and still think so now — ever since
That and you have to love what’s become their ballpark, now 23 years old, offering the best home-plate view in the bigs.
Take a look:
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The cost of being a sportswriter, beyond piles of money you’ll never be paid, is losing your teams, because no longer do you engage emotionally with the games.
The NFL holds little for me.
I enjoy hockey enough to not need a team. Ditto for baseball, though, oddly, it’s the only sport I really miss having one. But I’ve found one this season and the Pirates are them.
RAISE THE JOLLY ROGER!!
Since opening 1-2, they’ve gone 11-5 and tonight enter the first of a seven-game homestead against the Reds and Dodgers, 12-7 and in third place in the NL East.*
* About the NL East, who had the Brewers winning 14 of 19 to open, the Cubs winning 11 of 17 or the Cardinals, who are supposed to win it, losing 11 of 19.
Who’s not a sucker for a proud franchise finding itself and its proud fans again having a dangerous club to cheer?
That should be evident tonight and through the weekend as the Pirates return home for the first time in eight days.
Who doesn’t love a comeback story because a year ago Pittsburgh went 62-100, the year before 61-101, the year before 19-41, the COVID season, and 66-93 the year before that?
Who doesn’t love the former face of a franchise coming home?
That’s the story of Andrew McCutchen, who after winning the 2013 NL MVP there, departed Pittsburgh before the 2018 season to be a Giant, Yankee, Philly and Brewer, until coming back this season.
A feel-good story, it’s a play-well one, too, McCutchen going .310/.417/.586 thus far at the plate, entering tonight having hit home runs in three of his last four games.
Beyond McCutchen, catcher Jason Delay (.313) and left fielder Bryan Reynolds (.303) are hitting north of .300, too.
First baseman Carlos Santana’s hitting .261, but he leads the team with six doubles, has driven in 11 and, for God’s sake, his name’s CARLOS SANTANA.
All that and just five teams — Nats, Mets, D-Backs, Guardians, Rays — strike out less than the Pirates.
On the mound, 40 percent of the rotation is Johan Oviedo, a fourth-year Cardinal castoff with a 4.03 lifetime earned run average that’s suddenly 2.22 now and Rich Hill, who’s ERA’s north of 5, but who’s 43 years old, still has a starting job in the majors and how can you not root for that?
If they’re on, I turn them on.
If they’re not, at the end of the night or after waking up, I’ll click on my MLB app, offering 3 or 4 minutes of highlights or a 7-, 8- or 9-minute “condensed game” from every game, every day of the season. I’ll watch the others’ highlights but the Bucs’ condensed game.
Do that every day and you get to know the team. And knowing and having a baseball team is the greatest.
I mean, they play every day.
THEY PLAY EVERY DAY!!!
So go get yourself one.
This season, I’ve got mine.