Pirates fans living the dream

STEUBENVILLE – It is redemption time for Pittsburgh Pirate fans who have suffered silently, and sometimes not so silently, through two decades of losing.

The Pirates have broken a 20-year losing streak and are making a run to the National League playoff series.

The Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday night to chalk up their 81st victory and to keep playoff fever alive in the Pirate community.

According to lifelong Pirate fan Jim Emmerling of Steubenville, “The Pirates are now a legitimate contender. I knew the Pirates wouldn’t go 21 straight losing years because 21 was (Roberto) Clemente’s number. Clemente would have been 79 years old this year and 1979 was the last year the Pirates won the World Series. Its all in the numbers this year.”

“The recent trades the Pirates made were huge. To get Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the Mets was absolutely great. And then the trade with the Twins for Justin Morneau was also huge. I have been a Pirates fan since birth I am am extremely optimistic and excited this year,” said Emmerling.

“I can remember going to games at Forbes Field with my dad and my brothers. Now I go to PNC Park with my sons and I can sit in the seats and see the building where my dad worked. It brings it all back to me. I have been to 39 games so far this year and have 11 more regular-season games to go,” Emmerling said.

“This year is all about redemption for me and other Pirate fans who have suffered the last 20 years. The last two years were really difficult, but this year is paying off for us. Owner Bob Nutting has done a great job putting together all of the pieces this year but he has never received credit for his patience and belief in this team. I never considered the ownership to be smart. I consider Bob Nutting to be a very smart team owner who took his time building a very good small market team that have become real contenders. We got Morneau for $3 million for a month. But I am hoping he finds a young, exciting team that can be winners for the next several years, That may make Morneau want to stay with the Pirates for the remainder of his career,” declared Emmerling, who said he heard verbal abuse about his beloved team the past two years.

“I never gave up on the Pirates in my life. And right now I am watching a team that can win it all. If their pitching continues they are as good as anyone in the National League. The Pirates have made themselves into an American League team which is playing in the National League. Clint Barmes was the only question mark in the batting order and now he is hitting. The Pirates don’t have an easy out in their lineup. The Pirate pitchers and farm system have given the team some real core players for this year and the future. Charlie Morton has made a legitimate turn around. And I consider Neil Huntington the best general manager in baseball today,” stated Emmerling.

“If you haven’t been to Pittsburgh’s North Side this year you need to go there. It is an exciting atmosphere surrounding the ball park and people are having fun. Pittsburgh has done a great job fixing up that neighborhood to make it a really attractive place for the home town and visitors,” remarked Emmerling.

“We still have six games against Cincinnati and three games against St. Louis. I think the Cincinnati series will be the key. It could very well come down to the Reds. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I really believe this may be the year,” predicted Emmerling.

Don Fithen of Toronto is another lifelong true Pirate believer.

“I have been a Pirate fan as long as I can remember. And my family has a tradition where my father, brother and I along with a couple other buddies try to go to every Pirate Sunday home game.,” said Fithen.

“I can remember the Bucs winning in the 1960s. They won two World Series in the 1970s. And, we have paid for our success for the past 20 years. It was a great time to be a Pirate fan in the 1970s and it has been frustrating since. But I have remained a Pirate fan through the good years and the tough years. And this year has been great,” Fithen commented.

“The team is good, but the recent acquisitions have made a good team even stronger. I think they have the horses to go all the way. They are as good or better than anyone else playing ball today. These are exciting times and it is fun to be a Pirate fan. Its time to hoist the Jolly Roger again,” Fithen declared.

Mark Stacy, Steubenville Municipal Court bailiff and probation officer, has been a lifelong Pirates fan. When he was young he used to take the bus to Pittsburgh with other kids just to watch a game.

Stacy, because of his American Legion baseball coaching, tends to take in more games later in the season.

Stacy has had a special interest in the Pirates during the past couple years. Ray Searage, the Pirates pitching coach, was his roommate when the two attended college at West Liberty. The two text back and forth on a regular basis.

Stacy said the hardest sporting event he ever watched was when the Pirates lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series in seven games.

“We knew that was our last chance for a long time,” Stacy said.

For all the losing seasons that followed, Stacy said he stood behind the Pirates because, overall, the history of the team puts it among some of the best.

But the losing seasons were hard on Stacy.

“It was really hard to watch. That wasn’t good baseball,” he said.

When PNC Park was built, Stacy said many fans were resolved that the Pirates would continue to lose but still wanted to go to the game just to be in PNC Park.

“That was hard for me. In 1979, (when the team won the World Series) there were 50,000 people in Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh always was a good baseball town.”

But Stacy said the Pirates had to put a good product on the field.

“They said baseball is America’s pastime but it was hard to pass time when the team was so bad,” said Stacy, whose office is decorated with posters of Clemente.

“For the games to mean something at this time of the year, it is really fun,” he said.

Stacy said it never occurred to him to root for another team.

“I’m always a Pirates fan.”

John Corrigan Jr., Jefferson County clerk of courts, said he remembers going to Pirates games for years with his father. But his interest in the team wavered with all the losing seasons.

“When they lose, they don’t get a lot of support. It is good to seem them doing so well,” he said.

He said other professional sports in Pittsburgh – the Steelers and Penguins – have enjoyed good seasons while the Pirates were losing.

“It has been a long, dry haul,” Corrigan said about the 20 consecutive losing seasons.

He now watches the team on TV every night the Pirates play.

Longtime Pirate fan Keith Murdock said he’s deliberately stayed away from the ballpark this year in hopes of turning the team’s luck. Instead, he’s been watching them play on TV and reading about them in the paper.

“I’m trying to keep it under wraps, but I have been following them on TV and the newspaper – that’s about as close as I thought I could get without cursing them,” said Murdock, who said he typically goes to “30 or 40 games a year, and traveled with friends to a dozen different ballparks to see them play in the last five years.”

“They didn’t seem like they had a much different team this year than last, but, obviously, they were able to make some moves that improved the team immensely. I’m really glad for them. I know the Pirates organization has been criticized substantially over the last 20 years. It just goes to show you’ve got to keep the faith.”

Steubenville resident Donna Ross said her family – all nine of them – has a serious case of pennant fever.

“My dad used to listen to the Pirates every day back when Bob Prince was the announcer,” she said. “We had this little, crackley transistor that we’d use.”

Ross said she and her husband took their own kids – five sons and two daughters – to the stadium a lot during the Three Rivers Stadium era. Now, she said she and her husband make a point of watching on TV.

“I have a little teddy bear on my desk, it’s a Steelers bear, but I have all my tickets with it,” she said. “There is a light-up candle that came with it. I turn the candle on and have a victory light every time the Pirates, Penguins or the Steelers win.”

She’s hoping that candle gets a lot of work this month.

“I hope I get to turn it on all the way through the playoffs and World Series,” she said.

Larry Mosti of Toronto said he’s been waiting from this moment for a long time.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. I’m going to see the Pirates play) on Thursday. This puts some energy back into the area for baseball. This will be the first time my son, who is a Pirates’ fan, will see them have a winning season. That really puts it into perspective.”

Cindy Freshwater, also of Toronto, echoed Mosti’s sentiments.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “I remember the winning season in 1979 and the song they used, ‘We are Family.’ It brings back the year of 1979 when we went to the World series. It seems to me we are all family again. I wish Willie Stargell was alive to see this season. That year was like a continuous high.”

Perry West, who was assistant or head baseball coach at Follansbee and Brooke high schools for 33 years and is currently baseball director for the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference, said of the Pirates’ recent success, “I’m happy to see a local team doing so well.’

West said he is “a fan of the Pirates as well as other teams. I just like to see good baseball.”

He said the Pirates’ current roster offers “a good combination of pitching and hitting.”

But West added it won’t be easy for the Buccos to make it to the World Series.

“They will have a tough time getting out of their division between Cincinnati and St. Louis. You can never count the Cardinals out. They’ve always been a contender,” West said in an interview Friday.

But West said if the Pirates do advance to the world championship, “It would be really nice. They have a beautiful park and some really good players.”

Rob Robinson, Brooke Brooke High School’s head baseball coach from 1983 to 2005 and currently facilities supervisor for Brooke County Schools, said the Pirates’ success can be attributed to an effort by the team’s management to cultivate and retain talented players.

“I’m very pleased to see that management’s trying to develop a contender and I think it’s very positive.”

Robinson said the Pirate’s current record “is very exciting for the community.”

He said if the team is to reach the World Series, it will be a hard fought battle.

“I think they’re in the toughest division in baseball, with the Cardinals close on their heels and Cincinnati not far behind,” Robinson said.