It was mid-September and a light rain was in the Pittsburgh air. As we had done countless times before, my dad and I got into the car and headed down to Three Rivers Stadium. The Astros were in town, and there was baseball to be played. That was not exactly an unusual occurrence, but things were different on this night. After four straight seasons spent as an afterthought, the Pirates were within striking distance of the playoffs. With 11 games left on the schedule, the team was 3.5 games behind the first place Astros. Five of those final 11 games would be played against Houston. The postseason was a legitimate possibility.
As we slowly snaked through the rush-hour traffic, the clock crept closer to game time. We were not going to make it. Traffic was worse than usual, and we struggled to find a place to park as we neared the stadium. The pregame show was on the car radio, and suddenly a voice announced that the start of the game had been delayed. We were surprised, as the rain was mostly non-existent by that point. Nevertheless, the delay meant we would make it by the opening pitch.
We eventually found a parking spot and filed into the stadium. Electricity pulsed through the concourses, and the crowd was buzzing as we emerged on the stadium’s upper deck. A few minutes after we found our seats, the starting lineups blared through the PA system. After each starting Pirates player was revealed, the crowd erupted into cheers. I was 13-years-old at the time, and it was the most energized I had ever remembered hearing that stadium. At that time, the starting batteries were also announced before each game. After each team’s starting lineup was covered, the batteries for both the Pirates and Astros were announced. When the names Jason Kendall and Jason Schmidt were broadcast into the night, the crowd again exploded into celebration. I was amazed at the response. That crowd was so amped up, they were ready to cheer for anything. Even the night’s starting battery. I could only sit back and marvel at the scene. I have no recollection of what happened in that game. Baseball-Reference tells me that the Astros roughed up Schmidt and won 8-4. About a week later, the Pirates were eliminated from the playoff race. But I vividly remember that moment when a battery announcement elicited a thunderous roar at Three Rivers Stadium.
I have made many memories during my 27 years following the Pirates, both good and bad. I was there when Sid Bream’s 12th inning three-run homer defeated the Padres in 1988. I remember leaning forward on my couch when Carmelo Martinez drove a Randy Myers offering to the wall during Game 6 of the NLCS, only to have my heart broken by a leaping Glenn Braggs. I sat in my basement in stunned silence after watching Bream’s improbable journey around the bases in the 1992 NLCS. I watched quietly as the crowd around me littered the Three Rivers Stadium field with souvenir flags on opening day in 1995. I was walking out of Home Depot (or Lowe’s, or some other home improvement store) on July 12, 1997, only to turn on the radio and hear that Francisco Cordova was on his way to a historic no-hitter. We rushed home in time to watch the final innings, including Mark Smith’s dramatic walkoff home run. I came home late on a Friday night in May 2004, and an instant message informed me of the remarkable doubleheader Rob Mackowiak had that night while my attention was focused elsewhere. I stood and applauded on the final day of the 2006 season, as Freddy Sanchez casually put up a 2 for 4 day and secured the National League batting title. A week ago, I celebrated wildly in the left field bleachers as Michael McKenry deposited a Carlos Marmol offering into the seats 50 yards to my right.
Despite this horrendous stretch of losing approaching two decades, I have a lifetime of fond Pirates memories spilling out of my head. But none of them compare with that moment on September 17, 1997, as the Pirates’ starting battery was announced and the Three Rivers Stadium crowd erupted. It remains my only true, vivid memory of meaningful baseball in the city of Pittsburgh.
Your move, 2011 season.