I grew up in western Kentucky where you find mostly Cincinnati Reds or St. Louis Cardinal baseball fans. For me – those teams were never an option. My dad lived for a time in his life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was an avid Pirates and Steelers fan. I grew up watching him get excited following Pirates like (the great) Roberto Clemente and slugger Willie Stargell. I was twelve years old when the Pirates won the World Series in 1971 with Stargell and Clemente leading the way and watched my dad (literally) jump up and down in our TV room and shout and cry as the Pirates celebrated. I was so taken by his enthusiasm for them that my loyalty to the Bucs was forever established and have followed the up and down (mostly down) baseball fortunes of the Pirates ever since.
In 1972 my dad and I traveled to Cincinnati to see the Pirates and Reds play and he took me down to the Pirate dugout to try and get some autographs. I don’t remember what Pirate did this – but one of the players took my pen and scorecard into the dugout and had many of the Pirates sign it for me. Those autographs included: Bill Mazeroski, Dock Ellis, Manny Sanguillen, Richie Hebner, Bob Robertson, Al Oliver, Danny Murtaugh (manager) Willie Stargell and (the most prized of all) Roberto Clemente (who would die just three months later in a plane crash). In one of the most painful turn of events in my life – I, unfortunately, lost that scorecard and those prized autographs. But I never lost my love for the Pirates.
That McFarland Pirate tradition has now been passed on to my son, Justin. I am almost sorry to have saddled him with following the Pirates since they have been the most hapless professional sports franchise in history (twenty consecutive losing seasons). In that twenty year period – I watched the Pirates play a few times in either St. Louis or Cincinnati. They never won. Once during a game in Cincinnati I witnessed a Pirate base runner pass another Pirate base runner while trying to get to third base. It has been an embarrassing ride.
After my dad passed away in 1988 the Pirates enjoyed some outstanding seasons with great teams and players. He would have loved watching Barry Bonds (pre-steroid days), Jay Bell, Andy Van Slyke and the other Pirates but like me would have certainly cried real tears watching former Pirate Sid Bream slide into home plate and knock the Pirates out of the playoffs on October 15, 1992 in Atlanta. That date lives in infamy for Pirate fans as it marked the beginning of the long slide into futility. There was even talk during that time of the Pirates folding as the fans refused to support a team digging holes in the cellar.
But then something strange and wonderful happened to me as a Pirate fan. I found myself becoming a bigger fan the more they lost and the more people laughed at me for my loyalty. It became for me a badge of honor to stick with them and the glory days of Stargell and Clemente became even more glorious and it all – somehow – kept me connected to the memory of my father. He would have been proud that I never jumped ship – I will forever be my dad’s son and a Pirate fan. Most of the teams I cheer for in other sports have a long history of winning and I have been able to cheer on victory after victory. But not the Pirates.
Up until a few years ago – I had never been to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play. One day my son and I loaded up our tent and camped out along a journey that took us to Canton, Ohio to see the NFL Hall of Fame and then on to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates at PNC Park. Walking around the stadium before the game I could not shake the smile on my face as we crossed the “Roberto Clemente Bridge” and I am not ashamed to say I cried standing for pictures next to Clemente and Stargell’s statues outside the stadium. A few years later Justin and I returned to Pittsburgh and journeyed to the University of Pittsburgh campus where the old Pirate stadium, Forbes Field, once stood. A portion of the outfield wall still stands and it was there that Bill Mazoroski’s famous home run in game seven of the 1960 World Series defeated Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees. I think I cried there too. When it comes to the Pirates – I tend to cry a lot. I failed to mention that in those two trips we watched the Pirates play three games and they lost all three.
Now it all brings us to 2013. The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of ending (finally) that embarrassing losing streak. Over the next two months Justin and I will be watching every development as they try to end the season with more wins than losses. They came close last year only to fall apart after the All-Star break and I am sure most Pirate fans are holding their breath in hopes that does not happen again. Trust me when I say I could not care less if they make the play-offs. The magic number is eighty-two wins and as of today (7/20/13) they need twenty-six more to reach that number. Just twenty-six – that is not too much to ask, is it?
As Lisa and I continue our time here in Kingman, Arizona – I manage to follow the Bucs through the internet and may convince her to go to San Diego (four hours from here) to see the Pirates play the Padres there in August. It just so happens the game will be during her seven days off and I’ve heard San Diego is lovely this time of year.
Justin called me earlier this morning saying he was on his way to Cincinnati to see the Pirates play the Reds. Here is hoping after today the magic number is twenty-five.
Lets Go Bucs!