I wrote about my journey to the Blackhawks fairly recently, so that seems like a good start. I certainly do claim them as my team, but I also certainly can’t claim much more than a bandwagon fan at this point. I came to them during the 2009 season when I had pretty well declared myself an NHL free agent fan with the Blackhawks and Blues as the front runners. It looked like the Blues might claim me, but the Blackhawks atmosphere in the playoffs that year sealed the deal for me. And, despite family ties, I certainly tend more towards Chicago teams than St. Louis ones. I can’t really explain that one, it’s just how these things shake out, I suppose. In any case, yes, breaking through to the Stanley Cup in 2010 was an awesome time, but I really wasn’t there for the last fifty years before that to really experience the drought and the lows the team went through. In short, while there were certainly a lot of underdog years, I never really rooted for the underdog Chicago Blackhawks.
The Pirates are a bit of a different story. I would still consider myself to be more of a Cubs fan. That’s the team I grew up with (much to the chagrin of my family) and the professional team I’ve generally supported above all others.* The Pirates, though, have probably gotten more attention from me lately and I have no qualms in saying they have my favorite player right now in Andrew McCutchen. The feeling I get with the Pirates now is pretty similar to when you’ve “discovered” a mid-level band not long before they break into the big time, or those people who read Twilight before it became a phenomenon.
*This doesn’t really count my brief flirtation with Pirate fandom when I was five, which was more just me saying it than any action taken on it. And it was just because my first Pee Wee team was the Pirates.
I could see the tides were going to turn in Pittsburgh mostly because I took one of the most awful jobs I could imagine working tech support for GPS’s in Carmel.* I was pretty miserable there working for peanuts. Definitely not what I had in mind after all that private schooling. I only worked there for about five months, but it did happen to be five months that fell during baseball season. My love of the Indianapolis Indians and Victory Field is well documented. I mean, just look at the header image. For all the negatives that came with that job, the ability to go to a game or two a week was a nice bonus. And when I was there, it just happened to be the same time as McCutchen, Garrett (G.I.) Jones, Neil Walker, and Nyjer Morgan. Jose Bautista was there, too, for a hot minute, but I don’t think I ever actually saw him. In any case, this was before there was any indication he would become Joey Bats. Anyway, I digress. I got on board because I could see these guys were going to be able to rake, and they weren’t going to be too bad in the field, either. Pedro Alvarez came a little bit later, as did Jose Tabata and Sterling Marte. More firepower. It’s also the reason why, I’m sure, I spent all that time watching Walker play third then suddenly found him playing second with the big club.
*That company did so well they don’t even sell GPS devices any more, just software for your phone.
There wasn’t too much pitching in Indianapolis, at least not then. And that bears out now, too. Pirates pitchers are either known free agents like AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano or very young hotshots who came up after the core I knew were already in the bigs, like Gerrit Cole or (soon to be) Jameson Taillon. But the idea is the same. I could see the tide turning, and I had a personal connection to this team. I got to root for this team when the rest of the sports world was still awfully down on them and casual fans for sure had no idea what was coming. I know I corrected more than one person when they tried to use the Pirates as an example of complete ineptitude.
So then the moment happens, and it’s in the process of happening right now with the Pirates. At the time of writing this, they’re sitting at 80 wins. For a long time, all you really heard about was breaking the losing drought. Just one season of at least 82 wins. The team is on the cusp of that now, but you don’t really hear about that any more. There’s one goal, and that’s October. And it should be. The Pirates are leading the toughest division in baseball, and that win on Saturday felt absolutely enormous, even if they did give it right back the next day. That really did feel like a breakthrough win. And there’s such a huge feeling of satisfaction you can take from there that you would never really feel from rooting from a team like, say, the Yankees. Or, hell, probably even the Cardinals, though the 90’s weren’t necessarily the best decade for them.*
*758-794 for the decade, good for a .488 winning percentage.
It’s not always fun at the time, but going through all those fallow seasons does make the good ones that much sweeter, and there really is no better feeling in sports than when a team finally is clicking again and the fanbase is starting to rediscover the team all over again. The Pacers either just finished going through that or are towards the end stages of those feelings, and it has been a hell of a time to be a Pacer fan as of late, if my blog is any indication of that. The Pirates have finally captured Pittsburgh’s attention again, and even from somebody who can’t necessarily call them his own, though it’s close, it’s an awfully good feeling being here now after where the team was.