The Pirate Diary: Don't Look Down, Don't Look Up

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Diana Moskovitz, a successful and well-adjusted woman despite being a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, has written for us about the fleeting joys and enduring pain of life as a Bucs fan in the past. This year, she'll keep a periodic diary on what it feels like to spend a spring and summer with this haunted slapstick franchise. This is the second entry. Read the first one here.

Wise, experienced baseball fans knowing the perils of getting excited too early. Like overwatering plants and drinking too much beer too early during a night out, early enthusiasm can lead to ruin. Or so it seems for Pirates fans, so eager to believe and so ready to read so much into tenuous April competence. In baseball, a sport in which dozens of games combine to mean very little, getting worked up about the first few weeks is as productive and predictive as using kindergarten awards to predict future success. They just don’t mean much, however important they might feel.

So I swore off checking the Major League Baseball standings before the All-Star break. The Pittsburgh Pirates would only find a way to get my hopes up before crushing them by season’s end. It lasted a little less than a month. I know now that the Pirates were 13-9 as of Thursday night, only half a game out of the lead in the National League’s Central  Division, and I’m a little excited.

I chose to ignore the standings because they put all those games in perspective. Which, of course, is what they’re supposed to do: take stock of the wins and losses and show, exactly, how teams measure up. For a Pirates fan, and maybe for everyone else, the trick is ignoring the standings and focusing on the baseball. One day you win. One day you lose. Another day you lose. If it’s September, and it’s the Pirates, you lose the day after that, too. But it happens most every night, as routine as making dinner. To glimpse at the standings is to do the math and realize just how many times the team has lost, to see it all add up and to watch the team sink, and sink.

It’s a good and healthy thing for adults to move past daily failures and focus on the bigger picture and longer run. For Pirates fans, more often than not, the key is do the opposite. Think small: how’s the new stadium is holding up? Worry about trivial stuff: think they’ll revamp the logo? Don’t do the math. Seriously, don’t do the math. Channel your inner English major, say random thoughts like, “Isn’t life just moving from suffering to suffering?” Just don’t do the addition.

I haven’t looked at the standings since Opening Day, when the Pirates got off to their typical 0-1 start. Since then, I’ve read about wins, losses and consciously never gave either that much thought. Pirates tickets for sale came and went; they have a habit of losing games I attend, so I didn’t attend. I focused on inconsequential things, like beating the Atlanta Braves, because the Braves had looked unbeatable until then and because losing to Atlanta in the National League Champions series of 1992 still hurts. Terry Francona got lost on the way to Cleveland’s ballpark, and my family shared a good “Hey, at least the Pirates manager doesn’t get lost on the way to work” chuckle. We need Cleveland.

But writing about what it’s like to be a Pirates fan without checking the standings is impossible. So sitting in a coffee shop, sipping on overpriced caffeine-delivery liquid and surrounded by strangers with glowing laptops, I look. The Buccos, yes, my baseball team, are only half a game out of first place. I check three independent websites to make sure.

If this were a movie -- and I’m pretty sure at least a quarter of the people around me in Los Angeles are in some way or other in their own little movies -- I’d grab some stranger, jump up and down and announce, “The Pirates are almost number one.” It would turn out the stranger was a Pirates fan, too, or maybe a Cleveland fan. Definitely one of those two. Then we would fall in love or rob a bank or something.

But in reality, the celebration is a miniscule shimmy in my chair. The chances are good that every baseball metric invented says the Pirates will mess this up. The starters aren’t pitching deep enough into the game; the hitters hitting best are benefitting from unsustainable good luck. I text my dad, “Pirates are only a half game out of first.” His answer: “Let’s hope it lasts,” followed by the calming balm prefered by so many Pirates fans: “Watching the draft. Go Steelers.”

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