Pirates blogger Jon Anderson was just a year old the last time his hometown team had a winning record.
Chris Barron first experienced the Pirates in the1979 World Series when the Baltimore Orioleslost to the Buccos—the last major pro sports team to win a Game 7 championship on the road until the Penguins defeated the Detriot Red Wings 30 years later.
“I was 5 years old, and I remember thinking the Orioles sounds like Oreos, which is a cookie, which sounds like a dumb name for a baseball team, so I’m going to root for the Pirates,” Barron reminisced, smiling.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ history continues 20 years of struggle and loss, capping off the 2012 season with modern sport’s most epic collapse. Fans remain vigilant, knowing the Pirates will one day reward their steadfast loyalty and dedication.
On Aug. 6, the Pirates were statistically poised for their first postseason run in a generation. This Pirates team is officially the first Major League team ever to be 16 or more games over .500 108 games into the season and end with a losing record. How do fans continue knowing this is baseball’s largest collapse ever?
Anderson, a 21-year-old senior at Waynesburg University, explains, “A lot of people are losing their minds over it, but I’m pretty good at realizing it’s just a sport.”
Anderson is able to keep his emotions away from the game, claiming that placing personal stock in sports yields misery.
Growing up part of a generation privy to baseball failure, Anderson recalls his classmates’ ridicule and jokes because he supports the Pirates. In 2009, he started blogging, naming his blog McEffect, a play on the many Pirates with “Mc” in their surnames (McDonald, McKenry, McPherson, two McCutchens). The persistent losing doesn’t deter Anderson, though, from blogging and enjoying baseball.
“Nobody wants to support a loser, and nobody wants to be viewed as a loser,” he said. “But just liking that team doesn’t mean that you have anything to do with it (the losing).
“It’s not my fault.”
While Anderson patiently awaits his first chance to experience a Pirates postseason, he has enjoyed the ride this season and the excitement the Pirates created, filling PNC Park almost more than ever. However, he recognizes that, for others, patience is virtually nonexistent. Fans are coping by using nasty jokes and cynical remarks.
“It seemed like, at the very worst, they’d finish above .500,” Anderson said, “and that would be something to be happy about. But then everything fell apart.
“It’s just a sport, and it doesn’t mean much at the end of the day.”
Conversely, not all fans are levelheaded like Anderson.
Barron, who is 38, epitomizes the emotionally invested fan. In a Skype interview, Barron proudly wore a Pirates T-shirt, gesturing passionately as he spoke.
“I wish I could be apathetic,” he said. “I wish I couldn’t care. Life would be easier if I didn’t care.”
But Barron does care, and while he understands that the team’s collapse isn’t personal, he can’t help but take it personally sometimes.
Pirates President Frank Coonelly has said that no front office changes would be made to the team for next year, which outraged Barron. He raised his voice, criticizing the organization.
“It was like someone kicked me in the gut. Even after a historic collapse, no changes are going to be made?”
It hasn’t been all bad for Barron through these past two seasons.
He recounted the Pirates’ 2011 home series against the Boston Red Sox.
“There were 40-percent Red Sox fans (at PNC Park). There was something even better about having that many Red Sox fans there and us winning those two games. It was like David and Goliath.”
For Barron, baseball is a family sport and pastime. He bonds with his father and brother over baseball, and though he is not native to Pittsburgh—growing up in North Carolina—this is his team.
He knows deep down that Pittsburgh is truly a baseball town and that “people are so hungry to have a decent baseball team.”
Godsey, 25, stands in the middle emotionally, steadily becoming more detached.
“I stick with my team, but I’m a realist,” he said matter-of-factly.
Late in the Pirates’ season, Godsey watched the games but not with the same heart as he did earlier in the season. It became more background noise, and the thrill was gone, especially once they statistically chalked up a 20th losing season with a 1-0, no-hit loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 28, hammering the final nail into the coffin.
Godsey seemed slightly exasperated, yet apathetic, regarding the Pirates’ demise.
“I’m just shut down by it all,” he said. “It’s laughable for me now. I’ll put the game on on mute and do something and look over, and it’s, ‘Here we go again.'”
Like many fans, Godsey is used to the Pirates falling apart, and reality is a hard pill to swallow. But he doesn’t abandon his team.
Godsey recalls the night of the infamous “Sid Bream Slide.” However, he did not see it; his father sent him to bed before the game ended.
He does remember his father breaking a TV remote.
“That’s the only time he’s ever done something like that.”
Loyalty is the common thread binding Anderson, Barron, Godsey and the Pirates.
They all agree there is nothing the Pirates can do that will force them to turn in their fan cards, but their level of expectation for the future is cautiously optimistic.
Anderson believes that the Pirates cannot lose forever, relying on “statistics and probability.”
Barron’s thoughts mirror Anderson’s, stating that, “You think it’s impossible: that the streak can’t go on that much longer.”
After following the team for 33 years, Barron is here for the long haul.
“I’m already planning my trip to spring training, and I’ll fully have myself talked into ‘This is the year.'”
Godsey’s foresight tells him that next year has to be it for this team.
“If they don’t win 88 or 90 games, everyone’s head is gonna roll, including Frank Coonelly’s.”
Anderson looks forward to the days ahead when the Pirates are more than a joke’s punch line.
“It wouldn’t be ‘The City of Champions and the Pirates,'” he said. “A few games over (.500) could change everything.”
Win or lose, Wild Card or blockbuster collapse, Pittsburgh is a baseball town, and it just takes one winning season to make it click.
Anderson, while keeping himself at an arm’s length from the team, understands the Pirates’ importance to Pittsburgh.
“A winning season would have changed the whole perspective on the Pittsburgh Pirates.”