Yesterday morning, while boarding the R train at Union Square, I was surprised to find myself standing next to a young woman wearing a gray Pirates T-shirt that bore Pedro Alvarez's name and number on the back. This being New York City, it's almost never unusual to encounter sports fans from all over the country, if not the world. But those who identify with Pittsburgh tend to show their allegiance, nearly without fail, to the Steelers, Penguins or even Pitt or Penn State, at least based on their wardrobe selections. Pirates fans have mainly been a dormant lot, known largely for their apathy or their willingness to laugh right along as the franchise has flailed about with miserable consistency in these last two decades.
But, as we noted the other day, these are strange times. It's July 19, the Pirates are 50-44, and they're in first place in the National League Central Division. To some baseball fans, these facts would be a pleasant barometer of a competitive season that is a little more than halfway completed. To others — looking at you, Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox fans — being six over would be cause for alarm, for shrill calls to dump the dimwitted manager who's already won a World Series or to trade for some luxury spare part like a backup catcher who bats lefthanded.