Monday, February 11, 2013
How I Met Your Pirates
You know how every couple has that adorable, perfectly rehearsed "how we met" story? How every line, ever nuance is perfectly crafted to elicit the inevitable ooh from an audience? And how these stories are almost always at take significant liberties in the retelling of the story, and at worst the exhibit the type of revisionist history that would make Manti Te'o proud?
Well, that's sort of how my relationship with the Pirates went.
I'd love to tell you that I was born and bred a Pirates fan, spurning the Western PA Steelers birthright for a club that has, for all intents and purposes spent the vast majority of my time on this planet in the cellar of the National League. Instead, I grew up an Indians and Cubs fan, barely giving a second thought to the Pirates, unless my dad scored free tickets from work or I was going to a game with a friend's family. And the reason for this is very simply: Andy Van Slyke.
Andy Van Slyke was my first "favorite" player. That statement is qualified only by the fact that I have no recollection of Andy Van Slyke as a player, save for a couple ticket stubs to a 1993 Phillies/Pirates game which it can be assumed I attended. You see, my only real connection to Andy Van Slyke was his picture on the cardboard backing to the 1994 Starting Lineup baseball figures. You know, those 3 inch tall pieces of plastic vaguely painted to resemble your favorite player (in the most generic of poses), which your uncle told you not to open because they would put you through college one day? Well, I opened them. And at 7 years old, my conception of pro sports was far more firmly rooted in the the baseball games I would create on our suspiciously astro-turf colored game room carpet than in any televised games that may have been on. The fact that Andy Van Slyke - a local player from the lowly Pirates - was important enough to be featured on the back, among a half dozen other superstars, told my seven year old brain that he must be the epitome of cool. (Note: this same logic would later be used to convince my 8 year old self that Carlos Baerga was also cool. A notion I am trying to shake off to this day). Besides, what name could be more awesome than Van Slyke?
But my budding fandom would be short lived. Van Slyke would be released prior to the 1995 season, nearly destroying my entire world view. Though I couldn't have known it at the time, this was wonderful preparation for the frustration and perennial heartbreak the team would cause me in the coming years. But at the time, without Andy Van Slyke, the Pirates might as well not exist.
It would take another five years for me to finally come around. In between, I had some dates with other teams, a few one night stands. But nothing serious. I thought the Indians might be "the one", but they just couldn't commit. The Cubs, led by fireballing Kerry Wood, looked good, and blinded by lust I as too foolish to see the relationship was cursed. But then one night I was at a party, and I saw the Pirates across the room. We started talking again, and instantly hit it off. It was as if we were meant to be together all along.