Plenty of Room on the Pirate Ship

After nearly two decades in solitary confinement, Pirates diehards are welcoming new friends.


Photo by Zach Frailey, Uprooted Photographer. Want this as a wallpaper?

Four years ago, I moved out of western Pennsylvania to North Carolina for graduate school. Because of the wonders of the internet and smart phones, I've never had a hard time following the Pirates from 400 miles away. I can watch all of the games on my computer, listen on my phone, and apart from being able to attend Pirates games, I'm able to follow the team as closely as I did when I was a student at Duquesne University. 

The hard part about being a Pirates fan in North Carolina has, instead, been actually being a Pirates fan. The first time I wore my Pirates hat out in public here someone asked me, with a straight face, if the Pirates were still a baseball team. Once a year, the Pirates Triple-A affiliate from Indianapolis comes to Durham, and every year, I go to a game or two with my Pirates cap and a t-shirt on. The lowest point came last August, when the one Indy/Durham I could make it to was rained out and I instead spent the night in a sports bar near the Bulls ballpark watching James McDonald's Pirates debut. A man in a Nuke LaLoosh jersey came up to me, saw my hat, and just shook his head sadly and walked away. 

Having lived in Pittsburgh for the Penguins' revival, I figured that a winning club would fill up PNC Park, but I was never entirely sure. Being away from the city and the team and the heart of the fan base made it impossible to know. The last three weeks, though, have been a revelation. 

On the Fourth of July, I made it to what is likely the only Pirates game I'm going to get to in 2011. I've been to PNC a million times since it opened in 2001, but I've never seen a park that looked like the one I saw that afternoon. Fan after fan after fan sported Walker, McCutchen and Hanrahan shirts. Like a Steelers or Penguins game, everyone was in black and gold and the current players actually out-weighed the Clemente, Stargell and other throwbacks. For three hours, the fans watched baseball—really watched it, hanging on every pitch—and the full house exploded after Alex Presley's clutch triple and Joel Hanrahan's easy 1-2-3 save. After the game, I got into my car, turned on sports talk radio, and listened to fans calling in with excitement about the Pirates until I drove out of the range.

Last weekend, a friend of mine in Chapel Hill had a cookout. I went over wearing my Kent Tekulve shirt and trusty Pirates cap and for three hours, people kept coming up to me, asking about the team. "Can they keep it up?" they asked. "Have you been watching?" "What's gotten into these guys?" "When was the last time the Pirates were this good?" My real friends just asked, "How psyched are you?"

When the cookout ended, a few of us walked down the street to a bar and I was asked a question I never thought I'd hear: "Are you a real Pirates fan or are you just wearing that hat because everyone's talking about them?" I didn't even know how to answer. I did a double-take and looked the guy in the eye to see if he was serious.

He was. "Andy Van Slyke!" I responded. We high-fived and went our separate ways. 

This week, I've been getting e-mails and Tweets as early as Tuesday from people telling me they can't get tickets to this weekend's games. My brother went to Tuesday's game against the Reds and told me that when PNC Park exploded with Joe Beimel's bases-loaded strikeout of Jay Bruce, he thought he must be at a playoff game. Everyone has Bucco fever. 

I was recently asked, as a "diehard" Pirates fan, if I minded the way long-lost Pirates fans are leaping back onto the bandwagon with both feet. "You've suffered through the bad years, doesn't it make you mad that the people who gave up on them are coming back so quickly?" It really doesn't, though. I've been in Pittsburgh for Super Bowl championships and Super Bowl losses and Stanley Cup wins and Stanley Cup losses, and my favorite part about it every single time is the way that Pittsburgh comes together in the way that only Pittsburgh can and throws itself behind its teams for better or worse. As the guy that's always been a Pirate fan first, though, I've always wondered what it would be like to see Pittsburgh pack PNC Park almost every night and rally around the Pirates. It's happening in 2011 and it's every bit as awesome as I hoped it would be. 

So keep filling up the bandwagon. If you've been away from the Pirates for a long time and you're not sure if you're welcome back, don't think twice about it. As a Pirates fan, I feel like I've been in solitary confinement for the past 18 years and now that I can hear the warden jangling the key ring, all I want to do is share this team with as many people as I can.
 

Pat Lackey is a frequent guest blogger for Pulling No Punches. You can find him at his own blog, Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? and on Twitter @whygavs.

Don't miss:

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
Top Dentists 2016

Top Dentists 2016

The Pittsburgh region's 368 premier dentists across 8 specialties.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

The local pubs that fly the Sharp Edge banner remain a favorite for top-notch beer and tantalizing grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to embrace the second half of the season with anticipation if not expectation.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

We asked these Pittsburgh wedding photographers to share some of their most-memorable photos — and the stories behind them.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

The new, larger location in Squirrel Hill features an expanded selection of handcrafted merchandise.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags