Wearing The Golden 'P': Why I Endure Public Humiliation

A question without an answer: How to be a Pirates fan in 2010?

I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan who approves of what the front office is doing. Saying that sounds like something someone would say to introduce themselves at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and with the way the Pirates are playing, I might well end up there someday. 

I sometimes feel like pro-front office fans like me do need some type of support group, because I’ve found that a lot of casual baseball fans are baffled as to why anyone would be optimistic about the Pirates. I’ve found that wearing Pirates gear in public is a convenient way to receive condolences, anger and ridicule, often all in the same conversation. Those conversations are usually like extremely mini relationships after a bad breakup: "I can tell you’ve been hurt and I’m here for you. [Pause.] I just need to know, how did you even let yourself be taken advantage of like that? [Pause.] You still think they’ve been good to you!? You’re an idiot and you get what you deserve. Goodbye." The furry convention was in town this weekend, and I got the feeling a few of them looked at me thinking, "How can you appear in public wearing that hat and shirt?"      

I suppose that makes the Golden "P" today’s equivalent of Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter. It immediately brands the wearer as a fool. While adultery no longer carries an official punishment of public shame -- although I wonder if Tiger Woods would rather be branded with a symbol that Nike would probably turn into the next hot accessory than pay $750 million to his wife -- being feverishly dedicated to the Pirates publicly brands you as a sucker that keeps thinking this time will be different. "Why even get excited about McCutchen? They’ll just trade him in two years, and you’ll be telling me why the guys we got for him will take this team to the playoffs." 

Criticisms like that are mistaken for a variety of reasons, but it’s hard to discuss why this time really is different when the major league team is so bad. Imagine explaining to your parents that you’ve found your soul mate as they flip through Facebook photos showing nothing but you two drinking and vomiting everywhere (perhaps the aftermath of watching recent Pirates games). The larger point may well be true, but it’s hard to look past the surface.  

It’s difficult even for an optimist like me to stay upbeat in this spell of misery, but my parents instilled in me a wonderful sense of optimism and hope. I’d get out of bed every morning with the usual morning surliness, which my mother would cure by telling me that one day my hopes and dreams (that I’d become a combination airplane pilot/paleontologist; my plan was to fly myself to every dinosaur dig, giving me a competitive advantage in costs) would come true. That optimism has been tested when it came to sports: The Steelers would always lose in the playoffs, culminating with Neil O’Donnell … nope, still can’t joke about it. The Pirates broke my heart in the 1992 National League Championship Series, and it's been mostly misery since.

The Steelers, of course, finally broke through and won two Super Bowls, but even without that they were usually competing for the playoffs every year. The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups and tacked on another in 2009, but that was just another cruel joke, since I don't particularly care for hockey. It doesn't escape my notice that my most beloved team has been the only one to not experience consistent success. The cynical side of me thinks there’s a lesson there: Life is an unfair series of soul-crushing disappointments. That's a good lesson I plan to teach to my future children so that they'll learn not to ask for any expensive toys, but I'd rather it come from me and not another 20 years of losing.     

But those dark moments are fleeting, and the optimistic side of me thinks that the bad periods tend to turn into good times. I know that's far from a guarantee: You only have to look up the road to see that's not true. Worse, I sometimes fear that things will begin to turn around only to have it all taken away. (Maybe those guys would be happier if they embraced their inner furry.)

Yet my faith in the future is unshaken. It’s hard to see the glimmers of hope in the midst of all the losing, but I'm confident they’re there. I hope I'm right and that I'm not just still a wannabe paleontologist, looking deep below the surface to find treasure.

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