There’s nothing America loves more than a winner who has suffered and, Lord knows, the Pittsburgh Pirates have suffered. Twenty losing seasons in a row. The Pittsburgh drug trials. The cobbled-together public ownership that ended up $22 million in debt. Talented player after talented player leaving town as fast as he could, none swifter than Barry Bonds himself. These weren’t lovable losers, they were just losers.
You know that. The mismanagement, bad contracts, and downright illogical drafting of Buccos regime after Buccos regime is well documented. Like all great sinners, they have only themselves to blame. Most teams trend down for awhile, but fielding pathetic team after pathetic team for so many decades takes a certain kind of failure skill-set, one that piles bad decision on top of bad decision until they rise up, a giant Jenga tower of futility. Wear thick enough blinders—familiar to longtime Pirates fans—and you can almost be impressed by all the disaster. Almost.
And yet here they are, this season, so close to redemption. It’s earned, as they’ve steadily built their way back to respectability. The Pirates didn’t score a quick and nifty turnaround like the Marlins (twice!). They didn’t get lucky like last year’s Kansas City Royals (almost) did. They got better in the way that Americans love to think, rightly or wrongly, we all improve our stations. They got smart and worked hard, recognizing Andrew McCutchen’s transformative talent, improving their farm system, steadily inching up along the way. The Pirates almost finished at .500 in 2012, falling two games shy of that tantalizing, elusive mark. They finished the next season a whopping 94-68 and earned their first playoff win. They made the playoffs again last season, proving 2013 wasn’t a fluke, but couldn’t get past the Series-bound Giants. They are so close to redemption, so freaking close, that’s it’s almost enough to launch me into a hazy state of wonder, believing that two decades of embarrassment were worth it because winning the World Series will be that much sweeter.
The Buccos just might win it this season. I won’t say they will—I’ll leave that to Buster Olney—but I carry the hope in my heart just a little. They’ve set themselves up quite well. McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling (I’ll literally take a hit for my team) Marte might turn out to be the best outfield in baseball. A.J. Burnett walked away from more than $4 million in Philly to return to Pittsburgh, where he’ll hopefully impart some pitching wisdom on rising star Gerrit Cole. John Holdzkom once called into Chelsea Peretti’s podcast and bared his soul. (Holdzkom recently was optioned back to the minors, but I’ve got a feeling he’ll be back.)
So get on board this wagon while you can! Unlike many teams, there’s still plenty of space. Think of the Pirates as a rebounding stock with room to grow. We can use some fresh blood because we Buccos fans still struggle with learning how to be happy about our team. I’ve been known to be a dour Pirates fan, refusing to believe they would finally have a winning season until the final out of the final game needed to secure it. When I heard Olney’s pick, my first reaction was disbelief because nobody would ever pick the Pirates for anything. When I watched video of Olney making the pick, I worried the Buccos were jinxed. Such is the life of a Pirates fan; you get good at finding the negative for yourself before the team threatens to do it for you. This is how my dad and I operate.
Unless you’re my mom, who loves this team with all her heart. This is a woman who knows I work for a sports website, where I literally talk about sports and watch sports all day, and still texts me the scores of Pirates games because she wants to make sure I don’t miss them. And whenever the Pirates slide, she swears they’re gonna turn it around any day now while I’m convinced it’s the beginning of the end. She will never not sing We Are Family during a game. We need more fans like my mom.
So get with the Pirates, America! This is our year. We’ve got talent. We’ve got desire. We deserve it. We’re not some annoying northeastern team that wins a bunch of World Series but still acts like “losers” because they just like being jerks. We’re not the Yankees. Our field has an awesome view and isn’t under construction. Tons of rappers already wear our hats, so we’re surprisingly fashionable. McCutchen proposed to his girlfriend (now wife) on Ellen and it melted the hearts of moms across America. What is there not to love about these Pirates?
Still undecided? Consider this. It’s probably us or the Cardinals in the NL Central, and screw those jagoffs.
Image via Getty