Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Joys of Following the Pirates During an Actual Pennant Race

I often tell people that there is no more festive feeling than the excitement I have leading up to a Steelers playoff game, and that's because I enjoy the anticipation and hype that surrounds such an event. When you sit down to watch a postseason football game, you have no idea how you're going to feel three hours later, but you do know that the emotion will be extreme one way or the other. There is no in-between when it comes to your favorite NFL team and the result of a playoff game. And that's the allure for football fans.

But the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates have reminded me how much fun it is to follow a baseball team in a pennant race. It's a feeling that I haven't really had in years. I got a small taste of it last season when the team contended through late July, but this year, with the Pirates 14 games over .500 and currently sitting in a wild card spot, it sure feels more real than it has since 1992.

Last night, I went online to find out how the Pirates were doing against the Padres. When I saw that they were up, 7-1, in the top of the 5th inning, in my mind, I already had the game in the win column. When I checked back 45 minutes later, I was shocked to see that the game was tied. I believe I put my hands on my head and screamed, "WHAT THE HELL!"

When they went on to lose the game, 9-8, it was the first time since Sid Bream's slide on that fateful night in Atlanta many years ago that I felt a real sense of loss and disappointment after a Pirates defeat.

Sure, in years past, I'd get annoyed after a tough loss and maybe throw my shoe somewhere, but the annoyance quickly went away--it's hard to maintain that anger when a loss drops your team to 51-83--but when your team is in an actual race with something on the line, the tough losses linger for a while.

That's what I'm feeling today. I'm still feeling the disappointment of last night's game. It's a feeling that's usually reserved for a tough regular season loss by the Steelers. But that's a good thing. It just means that I'm emotionally invested. Anyone can get up for a win, but when a tough baseball loss stays with you the next day, you know that it's real.

And that means that the next win or wins will bring me a heightened sense of joy. I know that baseball is a marathon and not a sprint, and that it's always wise to get enough water and take a breather or two during a long season, but this is August, and that means it's time to really pick up the pace emotionally. I might have some water left, and I might have a time out saved in my pocket, but in a week or two, I know I'll be all in, and there won't be time to take an emotional break until October.

It's been a long time since I've felt this way, and it feels damn good (well, not so much after last night).

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