I was running late. As usual. Due to my impeccable time management skills, I parked my car at 12:24 PM. Eleven minutes before first pitch. I hopped onto the sidewalk and broke into a brisk walk toward PNC Park, arriving at the gate with seconds to spare. A friend met me there with my ticket, and I entered the park around the moment that Daniel McCutchen was making his initial offering. Walking to my seat, I watched as McCutchen quickly retired two batters. As I approached the hot dog stand, my attention was snatched by a crack of the bat and the sound of anticipation flowing through the crowd. I peered through the seats and spotted Garrett Jones gazing toward center field. A cheer erupted from the stands, briefly comforting me. Seconds later, it occurred to me that half the crowd was made up of Cubs fans. I caught a glimpse of Derrek Lee circling the bases. He would spend the day hitting home runs, almost at will.
As I found my seat, the raindrops began to fall. The precipitation reminded me of the previous seventeen years. The rain was relentless for the most part. Mike Lieberthal hit a walk-off home run, capping a ninth-inning rally that started with a 7-1 Pirates lead. Jason Kendall suffered a severe ankle injury, abruptly ending a career season. Brant Brown dropped a fly ball. Matt Capps blew a huge lead in Philadelphia. We were shut out yet again. A few times, the rain slowed. Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon teamed with Mark Smith on a no-hitter. Rob Mackowiak enjoyed an unforgettable night at the park. Brian Giles’ grand slam capped a furious rally against Billy Wagner. But mostly it just rained. I sat there, cold and dripping wet, as the Pirates lost for the 82nd time in 2009.
I was there the night Matt Morris’ career ended in a barrage of line drives. I was there when Ryan Vogelsong bailed out a struggling Josh Fogg, and the offense stormed back for a comeback victory. I was there the night fans littered the field with souvenir flags. I was there when three consecutive Pirate hitters flailed at pitches in the dirt, as the winning run watched from third. I was there the day Freddy Sanchez clinched the batting title. I was in Cincinnati when the Pirates allowed seven runs in one inning, battled back to tie the game at seven, allowed seven more in an inning, and lost 14-7. I was in Cleveland when C.C. Sabathia dominated the Pirates. I was there, by myself, when Francisco Liriano did the same in Pittsburgh. I was there, by myself, when Freddy sliced a ball inside the right field line for a walk-off victory against the Cubs. I was there when Tike Redman‘s epic battle with Braden Looper led to a thrilling comeback victory. I was there when Tony Clark tied the game with a grand slam, leading to a heartbreaking loss. I was in New York to see the Bucs lose at Yankee Stadium when the team drafted Daniel Moskos over Matt Wieters. I was there for the final game at Three Rivers Stadium and for Jim Leyland’s last home game. I was there the night Albert Belle struck out four times. And I was there, surrounded by rain drops, when Lastings Milledge lofted a lazy fly ball to center field, clinching the franchise’s record 17th consecutive losing season.
If you are a Penguins fan, you know how satisfying it is to reminisce about the days of Rico Fata. Or the year Dick Tarnstrom was the team’s top offensive threat. One day, when the Pirates are playing a playoff game at PNC Park, it will be a thrill to remember the days of Abraham Nunez and Kip Wells. Embrace this losing streak, and the good days that are coming soon will be much more special for you.