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

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

According to a financial advising site, Pittsburgh is both affordable and a good place to find a job for those fresh out of college.

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
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

The case against TouchTunes, the streaming music loudspeaker that can't stop screwing up the vibe at local bars.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

For the Steelers, this is a draft that’s long on need but short on intrigue.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Off to the Races

Off to the Races

Want to shade yourself in style at Derby Day and the PNC Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Spring Hat Luncheon? Look no further.

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.
Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Reviews of "Mother's Day," "Keanu," "Green Room" and local film news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
What Type of Favor Do You Favor?

What Type of Favor Do You Favor?

Planning your wedding and can’t think of the best favor that will represent you and your big day? We spoke with three Pittsburgh-area couples to learn more about making the best and most personalized decision possible.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Phipps Kicks off the Planting Season

Phipps Kicks off the Planting Season

Welcome spring at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens with the Great Plant Auction, Party in the Tropics and May Market.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

The Tech Savvy program from the American Association of University Women aims to interest middle school girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Comments

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags