“I,” she told him, “Can believe anything. You have no idea what I can believe.”
“I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not …”
-Neil Gaiman, American Gods
If there’s one question that I’ve been asked more than any other during my four and a half years as a Pirate blogger, it’s not “When will the Pirates be good again,” or “What would you do differently than the front office to turn this team around?” It’s “Why on earth are you still a Pirate fan after all these years?”
This is a straightforward question that is not at all easy to answer.
Life is not static. In my lab, and I suspect in most workplaces everywhere, there’s an old saying that’s often repeated. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” This is true. Life is about adapting to jobs, to people, to locations, to innumerable other circumstances. And yet amid this sea of constant change, everyone looks for anchors. A variable cannot be defined without a constant, and so we all look for (and find) our constants in different places; in family, in friends, in a place to call home, and yes, in sports.
Sports are beautifully illogical. I would never, ever let anything else in life disappoint me for as long as the Pirates have, but I would never trade the Pirates for any other team. While other aspects of life demand we adjust and adapt, sports never do. Watching the Pirates rack up 17 straight losing seasons doesn’t have the negative effect on my life that pushing forward with a flawed experiment or failing to dump a crazy girlfriend might have. Sports, if we want them to be, can be a constant.
Because of the Pirates, I always have something to talk about with my dad or my brothers, no matter where I live or they live, no matter what we’re doing. I can walk into a Triple-A game in Durham, North Carolina with a Pirates’ cap and a black and gold shirt and find ten people to talk to during the course of the game, even if I showed up at the gate by myself.
The common perception is that sports are all about winning. That if your team didn’t win, you had a bad year and that there’s nothing positive to be taken from it. I think that’s hopelessly misguided. Sports are about everything that happens before your team wins, which is what gives value to the championship when it’s celebrated. This picture is beautiful because of all of the heartbreak we watched these two men endure together on their way to having it taken. And this one still makes my heart skip a beat because of the way this one made my heart sink. After years of watching the Penguins and Steelers fall short and sharing in the frustration and pain and heartbreak with my friends and family, I knew what winning meant to them and to me.
It’s unreasonable to ask any sports team to win a championship every year. All we really want is to be able to hope that they’ll be able to exorcise the demons they’ve created for us. That’s what made 2006 and 2007 the two hardest years to be a Pirate fan; there was no hope. But now? I can’t see this picture of Andrew McCutchen without wondering how high he’ll leap when he leads the Pirates to a division title, or a pennant, or more. And when the Pirates drop nine out of ten? When they clinch their seventeenth losing season in a row? I close my eyes and I see a box score that reads like this: 1.) McCutchen, CF, 2.) Tabata, RF, 3.) Milledge, LF, 4.) Alvarez, 3B, and I can’t help but think that in two years, that will be something to behold. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe those things won’t happen. But right now, all that matters is that they might.
Why am I still a Pirates fan? Because I can be. Because despite seventeen losing years I’ve got Rob Mackowiak’s double-header, I’ve got Andy Van Slyke, and my dad has given me Roberto Clemente. Because I can’t imagine what it will feel like to see the Pirates pile on Andrew McCutchen the way the Braves piled on Sid Bream in 1992, but I need to know. I’m still a Pirate fan because despite everything that’s happened, I believe in the Pittsburgh Pirates.