I couldn’t have been older than 7 or 8.
Walking out of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, my father took my hand, looked down at me and said, “I’m sorry.”
We witnessed a Pittsburgh Pirates loss and he apologized, not just for taking me to the losing affair, but for roping me into the fanhood of a dreadful franchise.
Little did we both know, the worse was yet to come. And the pain has yet to heal.
This story goes back a few years earlier than that mid-1990s summer afternoon to an autumn evening in Atlanta. Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series took place on Oct. 18. Sid Bream beat out the limp throw of Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds and the Braves advanced to the World Series. Two days later, baseball prodigy Bryce Harper was born.
Twenty years later, the Pirates haven’t had a winning season.
Let’s put that into perspective.
In 1993, the Florida (now Miami) Marlins and Colorado Rockies came into existence. In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays were formed. Tampa Bay and Colorado have since advanced to the World Series. Arizona has won a title and the Marlins own two.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen just three Pittsburgh winning seasons.
For most of this year I thought that would change. After all, the Bucs were 48-37 at the All-Star break — good for first place in the National League Central Division. On Aug. 8, they were a season-high 16 games above the coveted .500 mark.
There was Rod Barajas’ redemption on a walk-off home run, Andrew McCutchen’s MVP case in a batting race and Starling Marte’s dinger in his first big league swing.
There was the power of Zoltan. And just like the near-decade before it, I was so na Øve.
The worst was yet to come.
The Bucs went on an historic slide that included a 7-error game and a 6-run lead lost. They were no-hit.
Playoff dreams turned into hope for .500. Both wishes were unanswered.
Was there progress in 2012? Well, maybe. The Pirates played out of their minds in June, July and early August. The late-season fiasco wasn’t necessarily a collapse, just an evening out. If you would’ve told me the Pirates would finish at 80-82 at the beginning of the year, I’d be OK with it. But that’s not the point.
General Manager Neal Huntington is in his sixth year. Under him, the Pirates tout a .414 winning percentage. Before him, Dave Littlefield owned a .432. Cam Bonifay sported a .442 mark.
For the second-straight year Pittsburgh showed life past the mid-way point of the season and Huntington failed to get it over the hump. Trades were duds, moves were spuds. The Pirates may be built for future success with a trio of arms (Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole and Luis Heredia) filtering through the system. Until their arrival, the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates will be consistent with the disappointing past two seasons unless Huntington adds some pieces.
Still, my dad has nothing to apologize for. October is foreign to the Bucs, but summer isn’t. There’s no better place to watch a baseball game than PNC Park. Trust me, I’ve been to a lot of MLB parks. And there’s always hope. Hope that the Pirates can return to the glory of not just the early-90’s, but the bygone glory of the 1960s and 1970s.
It’ll happen, just like it did for Harper, who helped clinch his Washington Nationals a playoff spot a few weeks before his 20th birthday.
He’s hit 22 home runs as a rookie, but he’s never seen a Pirates winning season.