After 20 years, the losing has finally been stopped
Friday, September 6, 2013
I went to my first Pirates game when I was 12 years old.
Unfortunately, it was the summer of 1993, the first of what would turn into 20 consecutive losing seasons. I remember when my mom bought the tickets, I was excited to get to see Andy Van Slyke. Had I not been 12, I might have found some kind of irony in Van Slyke getting hurt less than a month before and not playing in that game.
In 1995, while visiting family in Pittsburgh, we went to another Pirates game. Nothing really worth noting, except that it cost $1 for my brother and I to get in because we were under a certain age.
The fireworks came the following night, when Jacob Brumfield collided with Dave Clark while both were chasing a fly ball. Clark’s collar bone broke, essentially ending his career, while Brumfield ended up with 15 stitches in his head and hurt his hamstring. For a while, he was the butt of many of our jokes.
I can remember following the 1997 season – the last time the Pirates were really in a pennant race – from a distance. We were in town for the first interleague series at Three Rivers Stadium, against the White Sox, and the place went crazy when Albert Belle, whose salary that season was higher than the entire Pittsburgh team, struck out four times.
That team finished 79-83 and was somehow just five games out of first place in the National League Central. Two years later, the Pirates finished the season with a virtually identical record, and were 181/2 games out.
We tried to go to a game in the summer of 1998. My mom called the box office the day of a game to see what was available and was shocked to find that night – and the next two – was sold out. Wouldn’t you know, the Cardinals were in town, and some guy named Mark McGwire was having some kind of season the summer of ’98. Worth noting this is the only time I’ve ever heard of anyone having a problem getting tickets to a Pirates game.
I started college at Pitt in the fall of 2000, and attended several more games during the four years I was there, but the best might have been the game I went to in April of 2002. My dad came down to move me out for the year, and for his birthday, I got him tickets to a game. The promo that night was a free plush Teddy bear, wearing a Pirates shirt.
We sat in the upper deck at PNC Park, and when the Pirates made a base running error late to blow the game, just about everyone in our section – and all the ones around us – threw their bears onto the field. That was quite a sight, about as amazing as the time I saw the Wave go around PNC about a dozen times. I hear that happens at least a few times a year.
In 2003, I spent the summer in the city, and got a partial season ticket package – the bobblehead package, which meant I got two tickets to all six games at which the Pirates would be giving away bobblehead dolls. When you don’t win for two decades, you’ve got to draw fans any way you can.
Early in that season, while the Pirates were on the road, first baseman Kevin Young told a reporter how awful the fan base in Pittsburgh was. I was fortunate enough to be at the first game back in Pittsburgh after that road trip, and when Young pinch hit late in the game, well, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard boos like that before. He was released not long after that.
That 2003 team might have broken the streak, if it had any pitching. The opening day lineup included Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, Aramis Ramirez, Reggie Sanders, Kenny Lofton, Pokey Resse and Matt Stairs. The rotation featured Josh Fogg, Jeff D’Amico, Jeff Suppan, Kip Wells and Kris Benson.
In 2010, the Pirates were swept in a three-game series by the Brewers, losing by a combined score of 36-1. Last season, I went to Pittsburgh with a group of friends for a long weekend in early August. The day we arrived, the Pirates lost to fall to 15 games over .500, starting them on run of 37 defeats in 54 games to end the season. Purely coincidence, I hope.
I bring all this up because on Tuesday night, the Pirates defeated those pesky Brewers – in Milwaukee, no less, a place where they went 7-44 from 2007-12 – by a score of 4-3 to win their 81st game of the year and assure themselves of at least a non-losing season.
There are 24 games left, and I imagine if a franchise was ever going to lose two dozen in a row, it would be the Pirates. But right now, I can’t fathom that. Win No. 82 is going to come, and kick out a 20-year-old monkey.
Joe Marchilena can be reached at 594-6478 or jmarchilena@nashua
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