First Pitch: A Precautionary Tale About Living in Fear of a Collapse

I sat on the couch, staring intently at the TV. There are situations in sports when there is almost no hope available, yet for some reason you cling to the impossible. I was trying to find one small ounce of hope. The playoffs are when magical things happen. A comeback was unlikely, but I couldn’t give up hope.

“Yes!”

My roommate on the couch next to me gave a small cheer and a fist pump, as if he even needed to modestly celebrate the New England Patriots scoring another touchdown to go up by 21 with two and a half minutes left. The rage slowly built inside of me. Thinking about how he had been talking all week about being a Patriots and Eagles fan, and how he might have a guaranteed championship, like that’s not cheating. Thinking about how the Steelers went 15-1 on the year and looked like locks to win it all, only to lose to the damn Patriots once again in the AFC championship. Thinking about how I had a meeting scheduled that evening at work, and I didn’t want to see anyone’s face for a week. Thinking about how I hated Corey Dillon for running in that touchdown, and how I hated the Steelers even more for not tackling him along the way. True story: I type Corey Dillon here, but it was actually Deion Branch who ran that final touchdown in. For nine years I thought it was Dillon, because I was watching what was unfolding with a building rage, that ended with the following.

“F***!”

That was repeated over and over as loud as I could yell it. I grabbed the closest thing to me. A shoe. I threw it as hard as I could, clanging off the metal dorm room door. I picked the shoe up and threw it again. Screaming, yelling, frustrated. My roommate shut up. Good. I hoped he couldn’t even enjoy the win. His team had won two Super Bowls in the last three years, and he was talking about both of his teams meeting up for one all week. I was a fan of the Pirates, Penguins, and Steelers. The Pirates were a joke. The Penguins were also a joke, and while I enjoyed their Stanley Cup wins, and named my dog Jaromir, I wasn’t at an age where I could appreciate how rare it is for your team to win one championship, much less two in a row.

Then there was the Steelers. Every year they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship. This looked like the year. They had beaten the Patriots earlier that season. I sat with my same roommate at Buffalo Wild Wings, watching that game while some homeless guy decided to join our table. He offered us some cashews, which was kind of weird, then after my roommate took some, he announced that he would have one of our wings. We just looked in shock and let it happen. It was the kind of negotiations you’d expect leading up to a Dave Littlefield trade. But in the end I didn’t care. Because I celebrated with that guy as the Steelers destroyed the Patriots, listening to him cheering out loud for “Duce Stacey”, “Ben Rossemberger” and “Troy Pomaroo”. This was no casual fan. This was a Yinzer.

It was amazing watching the Steelers beat the Patriots in that regular season game, 34-20. That’s when I knew that the Steelers were going to win it all. And when they lost once again to New England, that’s when I knew I’d never trust the Steelers again.

****

“I would have thought you would have been more excited over this.”

I had a smile on, but kind of a mixed feeling. My roommate (not the one who liked the Patriots and the Eagles, a different one) and his girlfriend were sitting with me. We just watched the Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl one year later. I had built this day up for years. It was going to be amazing. It was going to change my life. It was going to be better than the first time I had sex, the first time I drank beer that wasn’t Coors Light, and every live concert I had ever seen combined. So why was my roommate surprised that I didn’t seem very excited?

It’s because I spent the entire year waiting for the other shoe to drop. That was easy to do with the Steelers only making it as a Wild Card team, and only making the playoffs thanks to four wins in a row at the end of the season. I wasn’t getting invested again this year. Not after what happened in previous years.

I’m not saying I didn’t cheer when the Steelers beat the Bengals, especially on the amazing razzle-dazzle play from my favorite player, Antwaan Randle-El. And the game against the Colts was the highlight of that playoffs for me, and also almost killed me. But after Mike Vanderjagt missed his field goal, things went downhill. I was back to waiting for the other shoe to drop, and waiting for the Steelers to find a way to disappoint. When they handled the Broncos, I was thinking more “now they’ll disappoint in the Super Bowl” rather than investing in the team again. And I carried that reserved cheering all the way until the end. I spent so much time waiting for the Steelers to…collapse…that I missed their successful Super Bowl run and didn’t totally enjoy it. It’s kind of like when you get an ice cream, then talk through it while eating, and when you’re done you realize you didn’t even stop to enjoy it. Only this was the best ice cream cone ever.

****

I can’t say that I’m anything like I was back then when it comes to being a sports fan. I was 21, in college, and sports meant a ton to me. And I know I say that now as someone who does this for a living. But I’m nowhere near the sports fan I was then. I view a win as entertaining in the same way that I’m entertained by a good movie. I view a loss as a disappointment, in the same way that I’d be disappointed in a bad episode of a TV show, like when The Office used to have one of those episodes where Dwight or Michael would become way too unrealistic and way too characteristic. You point out the flaws, but ultimately it’s not changing your life at all.

But I’m writing all of this not to tell you about me, and how I feel about games now versus how I felt about games eight or nine years ago. I’m writing this as sort of a precautionary tale.

When I think about this season, I think about how I felt with the Steelers after they lost to the Patriots in 2004-05. They “collapsed” once again in their own way, and because of that I spent the entire following season waiting for the next collapse. In the process I totally missed the fact that they didn’t collapse, and win a Super Bowl.

The Pirates are in a playoff race. It’s going to be extremely difficult, as we’re seeing lately. They’re going to have close games against tough opponents. They’re going to have heartbreaking losses where you go back and question the flaws. They’re going to have amazing victories that add an extra step to the following day. There will be moments where you can’t sleep waiting for a big game or a big series. There’s going to be highs and lows in a way that we haven’t seen surrounding baseball in the city of Pittsburgh for quite some time. And unlike football, it’s going to happen everyday, which may actually kill some people due to stress before the season is over with.

You might not experience all of that, depending on how you follow sports. Personally I think I’m enjoying the story more. I’m enjoying the fact that four years ago at this time I was interviewing Jeff Locke, Tony Sanchez, Josh Harrison, Justin Wilson, and Bryan Morris in a parking lot in Lynchburg behind the outdated home team clubhouse, and now I’m watching those players in Pittsburgh in an actual playoff race. While the losing streak means very little to me, I’m enjoying that so many people will no longer have to hear about 20 years in a row after just ten more wins. There have been so many hardcore Pirates fans. I’ve seen that first hand. There should have been no reason to cheer for this team in previous years, and no reason for such a strong interest, but it was there. It’s what helped this site grow at a huge rate every year. And that type of loyalty to a team when there’s nothing to be loyal to, and nothing but disappointment for years…that should be rewarded.

There’s one thing I see pretty often, and that’s the fear of another collapse. That’s what reminds me of how I felt back when the Steelers were losing to the Patriots. It’s not rational, but the thing about sports is that it can make you feel that the irrational is actually very rational. I understand the feeling of wanting to be reserved. The Pirates have disappointed the last two years down the stretch. That feeling, after you’ve started to believe in a team, totally sucks. It definitely did when the Steelers kept losing to the Patriots every year in the AFC Championship.

But you know what is worse? Realizing that your team just won the championship, and you were too busy worrying about a collapse to even enjoy what happened.

I’m not saying the Pirates will win it all this year. Odds are they won’t, and that’s not speaking about the team. It’s just acknowledging that it can be extremely difficult for any team to win a championship in the playoffs. What I am saying is that you have a choice. You can worry about the collapse that is hiding around the corner, or you can enjoy what is happening, and realize that none of it is in your control, so worrying about something like a collapse is pointless.

The latter approach doesn’t mean you need to be all “rah rah” about the Pirates and their every move. Certainly criticize the decision to keep Mark Melancon on the bench in a tie game. Celebrate a dominant outing by Francisco Liriano. Breathe a sigh of relief when Jose Tabata adds an opposite field insurance homer. Ask out loud “WHY?!” when Starling Marte bunts in the seventh inning, down by a run. Or when anyone gives away outs at any time.

All I’m saying is that it’s difficult trusting a team, knowing it’s very possible in sports that you’re going to be let down. That feeling sucks, but not as much as the feeling that you get when you missed the enjoyment of a rare and special moment in sports, all because you were worried about the bad that might happen to prevent that moment.

And screw the New England Patriots.

Links and Notes

**The latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast is out: P3 Episode 17: The Pirates Issues With RISP, Platoons, and Small Ball.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow Dominate With Strikeouts.

**Minor Moves: Eric Wood to DL, Aponte and Landecker on the Move.

**Minor League Schedule: Clay Holmes Follows Six Shutout Innings.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Walk-Off Against Mets After Losing Eight Run Lead.

Pirates

**Pirates Beat Arizona 6-2 to Expand Playoff Cushion, Match 2011 Win Total.

**Pirates Notebook: Tony Sanchez Says “There’s Nothing Better” Than Watching Martin.

**Pirates Sign Pitcher Kyle Farnsworth.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • brilemon

    You described my steeler feeling in 94 and 97… My highschool/ college fandom-ness era. I was at the minus 15 degree loss in person. But even at age 35, I haven’t lost the magic for the steelers, because they give me intermittent rewards. That is, they don’t stomp out my heart yearly since the 6th grade. All the bucs have to do for all of us to fully buy in for the rest of time is do it once. Make the wild card. That’s it. They will have a whole generation / for a generation / on the edge of their seat for the rest of their lives. Intermittent rewards is the strongest form of education and conditioning reinforcement. Pavlov. The rat pressing the button 1,000 times because the first 1,000 times he got 6 pieces of food at random. That’s me. Give me my damn food Bucs!!! Good article…. :)

  • timdwyer8

    God I hate the Patriots.

    Good read.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      agree with both sentences….the Pats are the Braves of the NFL.

      Chop this a$$hole!!!

      Foo

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Loved that line: “It was going to be better than the first time I had sex, the first time I drank beer that wasn’t Coors Light,”

    Foo

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    I used to have a stair stepper in my TV Room from 90-92. Boy did that thing get a workout.

    It was the only thing that helped with the stress. Alcohol helped, but screwed up work, so I went to an alternate plan AND got in shape. Back then, I could still play basketball, lol.

    Foo

  • Jeff

    Nice Tim. I think we all can relate to this.

  • Still City Kid

    In 2004 I had to move up to Massachusetts from Pittsburgh during my junior year of high school. I had to experience all of that right in the heartland of New England (btw, how lame is it that they claim all of New England). I watched that game on my 18th birthday and to say it was a let down would be a grand understatement. 2005 was exhilerating, but 2008 was easily one of the most joyful moments I’ve ever felt, because just when you thought it was over, it wasn’t! I’m also a die hard Notre Dame fan. And watched and supported and hoped only to be let down for litwrally my entire life. As you should know they had an incredibly dramatic season and ultimately made the national championship only to be demolished by Alabama. That game was incredibly hard to watch and was the ultimate anticlimax. But it was a successful season and it’s something to build on. The reason I bring up Notre Dame is because I wanted to share this video of Rocket Ismail speaking about “unbelief” at a pep rally. I think that you could change the colors from blue and gold to black and gold (yellow) and change thee names and it would be very appropriate. Please watch, you won’t regret it.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=related&v=8Wb1lpj82IE

    A true fan loves their team no matter the circumstances, you don’t pick them to be your favorite team, (unless you’re a preteen), it just happens. That’s true love, it’s like monogamy. Ride or die, win or lose. Believe!

  • buster09

    Really good column Tim. I am probably a helluva lot older than most here,but can relate very well to all of those feelings ! Hand in there Still City Kid,it can’t get any worse for guys like us than that ‘Bama game

  • http://www.facebook.com/fred.langford.9 Fred Langford

    I couldn’t watch any video of the Neil O’Donnell Steelers/Cowboys Super Bowl until the Steelers beat the Seahawks and got rid of the pain.

  • leadoff

    I think far too many times we as fans are reminded of bad history, like it was our fault. I tuned into a TV show last night and all I heard was the long suffering Pirate fans. I have been a Pirate fan since the 40′s and never regarded following the Pirates as suffering, if you can’t accept losing, you should not be watching sports, it happens, like Hurdle says shower it off man, but the constant reverting back to last season and 20 years is more beating up the fans than it is affecting the Pirates, the fans don’t need to hear it, we actually know what happened.
    This is the 2013 Pirates, they deserve to write their own destiny, why can’t we just let them do it, win or lose, ST will come and hopefully I will be there.

  • CalipariFan506

    I was the same with the Steelers in 04. But something happened between the Patriots loss and the Super Bowl win. Beating the Colts as 12 point underdogs made it all worthwhile.

    This year I’m having collapse paranoia. But it will end when one of two things happen. Either the collapse does happen and I don’t get as disappointed. Or they make the playoffs and I’m so thrilled it happened that its all worthwhile.

  • buster09

    Congratulations leadoff ! And I mean that sincerely. The ranks of those on these sites that have actually heard Rosy Rosewell is more than likely severly small.

  • buster09

    One addition to my leadoff comment : I should have said ” those OF US ” on these sites.

    • leadoff

      Yea Buster, you remember “Open the Window Aunt Minny, Here It Comes”

  • piratemike

    I guess I fall into the category of the “collapse group” but what bothers me are the “anti collapse group” that condemns anybody who has doubts about this team especially over at BD.
    I can only speak for myself of course but I don’t sit in fear of this team losing or “collapsing” I’m aware of their strengths and weaknesses and the players will either over come their weaknesses and play up their strengths or not but I don’t lose any sleep over either.
    The Pirates are assured of a winning season this year and I will pop a bottle of champagne that we were saving when that day happens but there will still be a little disbelief when it happens.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      We have 20-30 K readers per day here, and I hear from a lot of them whether it’s e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

      It’s classified as “collapse” vs “anti collapse”, but I think it’s actually many different groups. I have some people say after a loss that the Pirates won’t even win 10 games to get over .500. Others will say they won’t win 90 games. Others will say they won’t do anything in the playoffs.

      I think when the word “collapse” disappears, we can start to have some good conversations about how good this team actually is. But that won’t happen until people stop over-reacting to every loss. I’m not saying that’s you. I’m just saying I see it way too much.

      • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

        The word “collapse” will disappear when they actually don’t collapse. Hopefully that is this year, but the way the starting pitching is starting to go outside of Liriano, who knows.

  • piratemike

    I agree with what you say. I know you hear and read about it more than I do I’m not on any of those other outlets so I am just limited to a few baseball sites. I don’t feel like I’m anything other than a baseball fan and I feel if any fan who has some worries or gripes about the team should be able to say so without being labeled unless they are really radical and just trying to start trouble.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    I have opted to do both, I am very much enjoying the season while expecting a collapse. If the Pirates prove themselves this season as true winners, then the collapse fear will go away. In no way, shape, or form do I hope for a collapse, in fact I already bought 2 crows to eat if they don’t. It would truly be a great shame if they don’t finish strong this season.

  • deacs

    This is really a great article for 2 reasons – I have to constantly remind my friend in Pittsburgh that he should be enjoying this season. Same with my dad. I feel like I only hear from my dad when something bad happens in the game. I’m not saying that it’s ok to constantly put men on at 1st and 3rd with no outs and have nothing to show for it. But this is a fun team to watch and for God’s sake their ahead in the NL Central. Also I have the MLB package in Philly here so I get to watch other games and see other teams look terrible, strand runners, lose to the Brewers or Cubs or blow leads etc. If they go 92-70, which I think most people would’ve considered a success at the beginning of the year, you’re going to lose 70 games.

    And #2 – I hate the Patriots. I hate them so much that I almost take more pleasure in them losing than I do in my own team winning. And there’s something wrong with that.

  • https://www.facebook.com/joseph.walsh4 Joseph Walsh

    Pirates? I’m not as invested as the Steelers. this September swoon doesn’t surprise me, because this team has won on pitching and defense. our hitting is subpar. it catches up at some point. your feelings however describe exactly how i used to feel when Cowher was head coach. we seemed to go ultra conservative in the playoffs and our players seemed to play tight. I never thought Cowher would coach us to win a super bowl, ever.