Earlier this week I saw this on the ol’ Tweeter…

…and it got me thinking.  What makes me a Pirates fan, anyway?  Or more accurately, what will keep me a Pirates fan?  Am I now a fan for life?  I can’t rightly predict that with my recent baseball-fan track record.  I’ve been called a traitor, not a ‘real’ fan, and the best yet – a front runner.  Never in my life did I think I would abandon the Red Sox.  I’ve been a Bruins and Celtics fan since about the age of 8 and a Packers fan since the age of 4.  I’m a loyal guy.  So maybe I’ll keep following the Pirates into my ripe old age.  But really, it seems as if I’ve entered into the unfamiliar terrain of fandom called ‘choice’.  Weird.

But choice doesn’t rightly summarize my situation.  This whole thing started off as a political statement – make no mistake.  This was a calculated shift from the gluttonous, cash-eating, multi-pronged, corporate 1% of Major League Baseball to the working-class, small-market Pirates: the fat middle of the 99%.  So if the Pirates were to turn into another one of the AL Beast Yank Sox, I guess I’d have to make some more choices.  But that isn’t happening any time soon.  Maybe the Pirates will start cashing in and paying out when the World Series trophies start rolling in, but even then – I don’t see the Pittsburgh fanbase feeding a $200M payroll for their baseball team.  Ain’t gonna happen.

So what’s to make of the recent downturn in the Pirate’s performance?  Every time I turn on the computer to watch, they’re losing.  They’re down 2-0 in the 1st… 4-2 in the 4th…  Starters at 90 pitches through 5…  The bullpen is hemorrhaging… Pedro hasn’t hit one out in months, it seems… What’s going on?!  I’ll tell you what’s going on: the Pirates are not playing well.  The pitching has not been the steady dominance we’ve come to expect in 2012.  The bullpen is erratic – like most bullpens are.   The offense is what it is – middle of the road.

It just goes to show how fragile a small market team is.  The Pirates regular starting 9 can compete with just about anyone.  But there’s really no depth.  Neil Walker out with a dislocated finger?!  Man… that really hurts!  I’m sorry, but Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer are not names to be regularly included in a playoff batting order.  But hey- that’s what I signed up for: small market baseball with no margin for error.  And there’s still about 45 games left to play.  This is still a good team.

On the other side of baseball’s economic playground, the Red Sox are also losing.  In fact, they’re losing more than the Pirates.  All 175 million of John Henry’s dollars are losing baseball games to teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles.   And what are they doing about it?  Well, the players are texting the ownership to complain about the manager.  Players are whining and saying they don’t want to play for Bobby Valentine.  The ownership is denying there’s a problem.  The ownership is even surprised that there was information leaked (LEAKED!) from this confidential meeting (with 17 players).  (Were they just as surprised when ‘information’ was ‘leaked’ about Terry Francona’s alleged drug use and ‘tumultuous’ marriage upon his ‘resignation’?!)

The Red Sox go on a losing streak and ESPN lights up.  The character and integrity of grown men is drawn into question and old photographs from spring training are dredged up to re-interpret in light of the new information about tension between players and their manager.  Sideways glances are re-examined!  Stills pulled from video could be evidence of possible naps in the dugout!  Ridiculous!  It’s the same old childish nonsense that fed Beer N’ Chicken-gate last fall.

So to respond to @jrgsstuff’s pondering, hell no!  I’m not going back to that crap!  The Pirates continue to be an oasis in my sports life – a pure and simple (if recently struggling) example of a true underdog fighting to break through to the next level.  And it’s happening!  People aren’t even talking about 82 wins anymore.  This team is legit.  Will they make the playoffs?  We’ll see. Maybe they will; maybe they won’t.  But this team is good – and young.

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