Earlier this summer, I started thinking about how my post for the Pirates' 82nd win would look. It was a foregone conclusion that they would get there in early August; I actually briefly wondered if they'd have a chance to get to 82 around the time that I would be home for a game on Labor Day. That was going to be a stretch, of course, but it seemed like it wouldn't be long after that that the historic win came. As always for big occasions, I wanted to pick a quote out to commemorate the occasion. I decided pretty early on that the one I would use would be the last line of Infinite Jest:
And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.
I thought it was perfect for the situation; it describes a character waking up from the absolute low-point of his life, but it's also a flashback and so we know that he's going to turn his life around. The point isn't that all of the things that happened that lead to him waking up on the beach were terrible and made him change his life, it's that he woke up at all. That sometimes, waking up is the hardest part and that simply by getting that far, things have to get better. I thought that'd make a nice parallel for the Pirates finally clinching a winning season; that we as Pirate fans would wake up on our own beaches after 19 terrible seasons, unsure of where things are headed but somehow knowing that the hardest part was over.
What's striking about that line and that ending is that you know something as the reader that the character doesn't know. You as the reader feel a muted sense of optmism, knowing that things will get better for the guy on the sand. The guy on the sand has no idea; he just knows he's woken up from something terrible and that something about himself has to change. In the last 60 games, the Pirates pulled the rug out on us fans; instead of that line applying to me as an omniscient reader, now I feel like the guy on the beach in the sand, waking up after a terrible bender, wondering where to go next.
The truth is, I haven't thought about writing the "82nd win" post in at least a month. When I was home and witnessed the team's Labor Day debacle I mostly gave up on my hopes of the Pirates making the playoffs. They hung around in the race for a while after that game, but they were never honestly going to get back into it and I understood that somewhere in the pit of my stomach after watching how lifeless they looked against the Astros. Just four days after that game, the Pirates turned in their worst performance of the last 20 years. They lost 12-2 to the Cubs, committing seven errors, bumbling their way to a loss that a T-ball team would've been embarrassed by. At that point, I realized that they weren't even going to finish .500.
This next part is not an exaggeration: I have watched maybe a sum total of one full game's worth of Pirates baseball since then. I watched most of the extra innings of the next Monday's loss to the Reds. I turned the game off immediately after the dumb, ill-fated suicide squeeze that Wednesday. I watched the early part of that Sunday's game at Wrigley Field that saw the Pirates blow leads of 6-1 and 9-5. And since then? I've been done. I don't think I've watched one pitch. I had no idea that the Pirates got no-hit on Friday until after the fact because I didn't even bother to take my phone out to check the score.
I haven't been writing much either, obviously. I've had quite a few posts written, only to be deleted in whole because I couldn't get them were I wanted them and I just didn't feel like putting in the effort to get them there. That's never been something I've had to worry about in the past. I told quite a few people that I thought maybe it was time to hang up the keyboard, that I'm burned out, that beyond the blog I'm incredibly busy with trying to finish my PhD, that maybe after eight seasons (eight seasons!) I just don't have much left.
All of those things are true. Life happens, you know? In some ways, I'm such a ridiculously different person than I was when I started this blog that I feel like pretty much the only thing that's the same about me is that I write a Pirate blog. Why force my 27-year old self to do something that I'm not sure I enjoy anymore just because my 20-year old self thought it was a great idea? And then I ask myself if that's really true. Do I really not like baseball or the Pirates enough to write about it anymore?
I've been sitting here for the past five days writing and re-writing this post. One time, I quit for forever. One time, I said that I wasn't going to quit, but that I wasn't going to promise to write that much either and that maybe I'll see you when I see you. One time, I swore to forge on ahead despite myself and pretend like nothing was wrong. I thought about just disappearing, leaving the no-hitter post at the top as a memorial to the futility of being a Pirate fan. None of it felt right at all, which is why the blog has been quiet since Friday's no-hitter.
And so here it is: it's just not time for me quit WHYGAVS yet. Six weeks ago, when Michael Weinreb wrote his story in Grantland about the Pirates seemingly finally breaking out of their infinite slump — the piece that heavily featured my own experiences in its first half — I got a slew of e-mails from other Pirate fans. Some were from friends I'd lost touch with, some were from long-time readers, some were from new readers. The reason that I'm mentioning this is because thinking about it now is a reminder that all I've ever really wanted WHYGAVS to be is a chronicle of being a Pirate fan. It's never been my goal to tell Pirate fans how to think or what to think or how to feel or what to feel, only to explain how I think and why I think the way I do and how I feel about things and why I feel the way that I do. I've never wanted to speak for every Pirate fan and I would never presume to do so, but simply to look at things from the perspective of this one Pirate fan and to share what that's like. To paraphrase Tolkien, somehow what started off as a dumb little selfish story has grown in the telling. I don't know how this particular story ends, but what I am certain of is that it's not over yet.
I can't promise to write every day this off-season. I can't promise to be on top of every news story as it breaks, or to be able to post about every single rumor and whisper. I can't promise to address every single misstatement from the front office. But I can promise that I'll be writing all winter, even if the blog by necessitity takes on a slightly different form in terms of content and presentation. I can promise that WHYGAVS isn't dead. Not quite yet.
The Pirates play the Braves at 12:35 today. Ben Sheets takes the mound for the final start of his career against AJ Burnett. Maybe I'll turn the radio on.