Being a Pirate fan is not easy. There are obvious reasons for this, with the primary one being that the Pirates are bad at baseball. They’ve been bad at baseball for just about as long as anyone can remember. Pirate fans that have suffered through 19 consecutive losing seasons have dealt with watching baseball games in a toilet bowl, the specter of the team moving, the inept management of Cam Bonifay and Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield, and an uncountable number of losses in ways that can only begin to be described. That barely scratches the surface, of course. Once you count the embarrassing players (Derek Bell, Raul Mondesi, “Welcome to Hell” Jason Kendall and numerous others), embarrassing managers (Lloyd McCledon’s ridiculous antics, Jim Tracy’s lackadaisical approach to his entire career as a Pirate, John Russell’s corpse impersonation), the stupid PR moves made by the Nutting/Coonelly regime, and things that I’ve probably intentionally repressed down into the dark recesses of my brain, you’ve got a mountain of reasons to not be a Pirate fan that no one would blame you for taking.
As a result, the Pirates are the red-headed stepchild of Pittsburgh sports. That’s OK. I understand that neither local paper wants to waste their best journalist in the Pirate beat. I get why the Pirates almost never pop up on ESPN or MLB Network other than to fulfill the annual “wacky pre-season prediction” quota. I get why PNC is always empty when the Penguins are in the playoffs and when the Steelers are playing. You don’t have to explain it to me, and I don’t hold it against people that would rather cheer for Pittsburgh’s more successful sports teams. The Pirates have been bad for a long time to the point that they became an embarrassment to the fans and anyone that wanted to jump off the bandwagon at any point after about 2006, I understand.
Here’s the thing, though: Pirate fans do exist. Maybe the Pirates don’t have a “Nation” of fans the way the Steelers or Pens or Red Sox do, but Pirate fans do exist. In fact, just saying that Pirate fans exist sells us way short. Pirate fans are amazing. I don’t mean that as hyperbole, I don’t mean that as “for lack of a better term.” I mean that Pirate fans are amazing. There are few fan bases that have had been heaped under as much garbage as Pirate fans have in the last 20 years, and all you have to do is pull up a computer to find a legion of smart, funny, eloquent, die-hard Pirate fans writing blogs or commenting in game threads or just hanging around on Twitter. It’s self-perpetuating, but the reason that Pirate fans are able to exist are other Pirate fans. Being a Pirate fan requires a type of loyalty that being a Yankee fan or a Steeler fan never will.
It sounds cliched, but this is why I don’t care that the Pirates get ignored by the national media and mostly marginalized by the local media. Being a Pirate fan is like being in the best kind of secret club: who cares if no one realizes how good Andrew McCutchen is or how beautiful PNC Park is or how good the Pirate blogs are? We all know it and we know that there are other Pirate fans that appreciate the same things we do and have been through the same crap we have and so, somehow that makes it OK. When my friend Adam talks about his Bucco Playoff Kegger in October, every single Pirate fan knows what he’s talking about. Someday, the Pirates going to find their way out of these woods and when they do, we long-time Pirate fans are going to let out a huge collective sigh of relief and talk about all of the things we went through as fans to see the club through to this point and have one hell of a party. We know we’ll have other Pirate fans to share it with and the anticipation of that moment alone is worth waiting for.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I’m fine with the local media treating the Pirates like second class citizens and I’m fine with the national media generally pretending like the Pirates don’t exist, but what really works me up more than anything is when people treat Pirate fans like they don’t matter. How is it that the local media can spell tough, nonintuitive names like “Roethlisberger” and “Lemieux” right every single time, but so many writers and editors consistently misspell an easy name like “McCutchen?” (Make no mistake; it was the linked PG story that set me off today, but this is not an isolated problem) Andrew McCutchen is one of baseball’s best centerfielders. He’s an All-Star and a rising young star in general. He’s signed the most important contract extension in the history of the Pirates. His last name is both distinctive and easy to spell. In all of Major League history, Andrew McCutchen and Dan McCutchen are the only two McCutchens to step onto the field. There has never been a big leaguer with the last name McCutcheon.
Andrew McCutchen doesn’t care if you know how to spell his name. He’s got his contract extension, he’s got his All-Star appearance, he’ll have his endorsements. Andrew McCutchen probably doesn’t even read the baseball coverage in the PG or the Trib. No, the people that read that coverage are the Pirate fans. The people who’ve had long, long winters that have had April 5th circled on their calendars for months. The people who say to themselves, “This week has been rough, but if I can just get to 1:35 on Thursday, it’ll all be OK.” The people that go to PNC Park when it’s 42 degrees and rainy in April and when it’s 102 degrees with 99% humidity in August. The people that watch every game on their computer, even though they live hundreds of miles from Pittsburgh. The people that know that Tim Neverett has a depth perception problem on home runs, that Pedro Alvarez’s toe-tap this spring is new, that saw Charlie Morton last spring and said, “Wow, that looks different” without ever having to be told that he dropped his armslot.
And when we see “McCutcheon” in print, we roll our eyes and swear under our breath. How can you write a story about the plight of the fanbase and misspell the name of the team’s best and most exciting player? Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates right now; his talent and potential and his extension represent the things that make this Pirate team different from every Pirate team that’s come before them over the last 19 years. If you can’t do enough homework to spell his name right, how can you possibly write anything else about the team? Making a mistake that simple (and I’m not singling out the writers and reporters here — I know how easy it is to make a typo in a long piece and I’m sure you’ll find at least one in this post — because newspapers have editors for a reason) and careless says to me that you don’t care who reads it. It’s just a piece about the Pirates, right? Who cares? Who cares if Andrew McCutchen’s name is spelled right? No one will read it anyway.
I care. I’ll read it and I’ll notice when it’s wrong and I’ll remember it, too. It’s OK, though, because even if people like to pretend that Pirate fans don’t exist, we Pirate fans know differently. And when things finally turn around for the Pirates, we’ll lose our minds and we’ll toast Andrew McCutchen and we’ll pack PNC Park and we’ll be impossible to ignore. I can’t wait.