I know I'm a couple days late here, it's been a pretty big week for the Pirates. For the first time that I can appreciate, the Pirates have clinched a winning record.
And continuing my streak of awesome luck, I spent the past week sans internet while waiting for service to be set up in our new apartment. So while the rest of the bandwagon fans were tweeting, facebooking, and of course actually watching win number 82...I was relegated to watching score updates on ESPN mobile.
So perhaps it was for the best.
I can't argue that having a winning season isn't a big deal. I'm 25 years old. The last time the Pirates walked off the field during a winning season, I was four years old. The last time the Pirates were a winning team, I had no concept of what baseball was, and my life was likely consumed by stuffed animals, Disney movies, and those oversized LEGO blocks. I had not yet graduated to the normal sized LEGO.
So yes, it is a big deal. But winning 82 has never been the goal, and never should have been the goal. Maybe a winning season or two sprinkled in would have eased some of the jokes on local and national sports casts. But would it have fundamentally changed the way I love the team, or the way the past two decades played out? Sure, winning the division during the '97 Freak Show team could have prevented rushing Aramis Ramirez to the majors, or given Jose Guillen some extra time to develop in Pittsburgh. Maybe in some strange butterfly effect world a series of standings shifts leave the Pirates drafting a series of budding superstars in the late 90's, altering the team's fate.
But truthfully, my identity as a Pirates fan for the entirety of my life has been tied to loving a losing team. It had almost become a point of pride, as the rest of the city rode the Steelers and Penguins bandwagons, I faithfully clung to my team. And I don't say that in a pretentious way, but simply to say that I think most Pirate fans who followed the team over the past twenty years learned things that perhaps many fans never learn.
When you follow a winner, it can be easy to focus on the end goals. People can recount every moment of championship seasons, yet the Steelers Conference Championship losses and the games preceding it fade from memory. Penguin fans focus in on a messy playoff exit, rather than the dominant regular season leading up to it.
Pirate fans haven't had that luxury. There was never a season that I said "the team looks like a contender this year." Most years, we knew there was a 90+ loss club sitting in front of us. So you learn to appreciate the little things. Not just the walkoff homer, or shutout. You appreciate a diving stop in the hole, or a runner thrown out at home because they may be the only thing you really have to cheer about that game. Or that week. A save is something bequest by the baseball gods, not a foregone conclusion. And a quality start? That word takes on a whole different meaning when you might get one a week.
This season has been a magnificent ride, and the final weeks will be an amazing ride. But it's something new. Something different. And if we slip back into another two decades of losing after this year, it won't make me love every second, every pitch of this year any less.