Trades are exciting in sports, but they also give people anxiety. It is difficult not to begin to form an emotional attachment to your favorite team and players. As fans, we look on as our favorite players thrive, develop, win championships, fall short, and suffer injury and disappointment. We connect with them in these moments from afar. Why?
Because we are all human and we all know what it is like to win and to lose in some form.
Jordan Staal moving on to Carolina has sparked a lot of sadness in the fans in Pittsburgh even though many are excited to welcome Brandon Sutter to the Penguins. Staal has been with the Pens for six years, since he was drafted second overall in 2006. After six years of “Staals are Brothers” drinking games, name mispellings (Stall, Stahl, Stoll?), Staal roars, two Stanley Cup finals, a Stanley Cup championship, and Staal getting hit in the face with the puck about 30 times, Pens fans have a place for Staal in their hearts. This, just looks weird:
I personally, was excited about the Staal trade. I am happy for him. Per my previous post, this trade is what is best for Staal’s career and I just don’t see him fitting in with the Pens. Not because he is a bad player. Staal is on the verge of becoming an elite player. There just isn’t roster room for him to be able to flourish in a way that will be meaningful to his future.
While I stood and cheered like a maniac at the draft when the Staal trade was announced (and cheered even more loudly when GM Ray Shero publicly thanked Staal for his time in Pittsburgh), I didn’t feel sad. I was wearing my Staal shersey. I wore it because deep in my heart, I knew that it would be my last time donning it inside of Consol Energy Center.
On the way out of the arena, I told my son that we needed to take one last photo with the Staal cutout. He didn’t realize as we were all cheering what was going on. He asked why. I explained to him that Jordan Staal isn’t a Penguin anymore. He burst into tears. “But Jordan Staal is my favorite player, Mom! I’m going to miss him. I won’t get to see him play no more!” Heartbroken.
I consoled him as best I could. It was extremely difficult explaining to him in terms that he could understand why Staal had to leave. I tried painting the happy spin on it that now Jordan would be able to play with his brother and how exciting that would be for him. When we arrived home, his Uncle Corey (one of my two brothers) told him that he can watch Staal play again because he is moving to Raleigh in the fall. So we can watch Canes games in just a few months when we visit over the weekends.
But it won’t be the same.
I started thinking back to trades that broke my heart as a kid. Andy Van Slyke and Joe Randa on the Pirates. Shawn McEachern on the Penguins. Devastated. My favorite players, gone.
The walk back to the car was rough as he began pelting me with questions regarding all of the Penguins whereabouts. “Where is Sidney Crosby? Where is Fleury?” The concern that the rest of the guys he loves to watch would never come back from the off-season was at a major high.
But now as I sit here, I am thinking about what Staal means to me. When Jordan was born, my brother on day one nicknamed him “Little Staal” as they share the same first name. When I brought him home from the hospital, Uncle Zach had a gift waiting for him:
For his first birthday, I bought him a Staal jersey in the smallest size possible. It was almost down to his feet.
He wore his Staal jersey to his first Pens game on October 5, 2009. It was still huge on him. He wouldn’t wear it to another game until September 24, 2011. It was the only game he ever wore it to that it fit perfectly.
Staal is the player he has always identified with the most due to their shared name. Everything with him is about the number 11. At the grocery store once a few months ago, he saw the checkout line numbers. “Hey, that’s the Jordan Staal line, Mom!” Yes. He really said that. He knows number 11 because of Staal.
Staal has a place in my heart because of all of these memories, just the same as my favorite players from years gone by. For years, I attended every single Pirates game against Kansas City because I desired to see Joe Randa play again, just the same as the hockey games I attend for the sole reason of seeing a former Penguin back in the building.
We all do this. These men are a part of our personal histories and memories and even if we never met them, they have done something that impacted us in a positive way.
Staal will be missed but we are about to create new memories with Brandon Sutter until the time comes for him to move on.
Thank you for the ride, Staal. It’s been a fun one.