It’s been nearly three weeks since I’ve been to a Major League Baseball game. What’s the best way to fix that?
Go to three in one week.
I got back in the groove by hitting Progressive Field in Cleveland for a 4th of July celebration and went to two games in my beloved Pittsburgh summer home of PNC Park.
Slider came to the park on Monday, July 4, in his best red, white and blue outfit. But, my buddy Andrew and I stuck with a special kind of patriotism. He is a well-documented Yankees fan and a loyal supporter of my Pirates. When the Yankees come close to Northeast Ohio, he makes every effort to attend a game. The last time he saw his time live and in person was two years ago, though.
I can’t imagine that.
Only getting to see your team one every handful of years is quite the misfortune. Having grown up in great proximity to Pittsburgh, I have attended over 20 games almost every year these past two decades. That feeling of being at the ballpark live is probably the biggest explanation of why I am such a big fan. For that reason, I feel the need to support Andrew and his Yankees.
What’s unique about the Yankees is their aura. There is a sense of pride, although it is much stronger than that, among the fan base and the team itself. Standing just 10 feet away from legends during batting practice gave me an indescribable feeling. Jeter, Rodriguez, Cano, Sabathia, even Swisher, these are media darlings that can be identified by nearly anyone who follows sports from coast to coast. No other team can boast what the Yankees can and from that I don’t feel any hatred. It’s not even a jealousy, it’s simple respect. I think it takes a true baseball fan to realize what the Yankees stand for and look past the notions of “ruining baseball” and “Yankees Suck.”
Clearly, they don’t.
I was lucky enough to snap some great pictures of Yankees players during BP as Andrew was content just yelling out to his heroes and holding out hope that one may stop over, say hi, and sign an autograph for some of the hundreds waiting patiently.
But this day was for Derek Jeter.
The 4th was Jeter’s first game back from a DL stint and the reception he received from the faithful was overwhelming. Signs and shouts to the shortstop were all positive until his first at-bat.
The Indians fans booed him mercilessly.
Sitting just six hits shy of 3,000 we knew we had the potential of seeing a simple path on the road to history. We didn’t as Jeter went 0-for-4.
The game itself was an unbelievable game, especially coming from a 3rd party fan, myself. The Yanks were no-hit through six innings but would falter in the end. The atmosphere was electric in the park. Anytime a club beats the Yankees can be special and with the way the Tribe has been playing, it could be the cornerstone to a strong second half.
The joyous sounds of Americana graced the park as fireworks filled the night sky. Baseball on the 4th of July is as true to this country as you can get. Like the scene out of The Sandlot, we got a sight of awe and wonder as over 40,000 people basked in a perfect evening.
I wanted to make the next night even better.
I was back at my park, PNC Park.
The way the Bucs have been playing, all of Pittsburgh has caught the baseball fever. A sold out crowd on Independence Day saw a huge Pirate win over the Astros. I wanted to see an encore on Tuesday. Nearly 20,000 other did, as well. A crowd like that was unheard of over the past eight or so years. More than 9,000 people walked up to get tickets, too. While the buzz has been palpable, I turned my back, somehow.
Craig Biggio is one of, if not, my most favorite ballplayer. He was nitty, he was gritty and he played the game with the heart and integrity that little leaguers, like myself at the time looked up to. Recently, I pulled the trigger on the jersey to honor this idol in my baseball life.
I had to give that same song and dance to at least five other Pirates fans at the game. Everyone obliged and actually respected me with a slew of high fives and fist bumps. I simply said, “I’ll probably wear this jersey seven times in my life. This is one of the most appropriate times.”
Well, I’m not one to believe in superstitions but Biggio brought Pittsburgh luck as the Buccos raised the jolly roger.
While the end result was not pleasant, the 39,000 in attendance were treated to the most surreal moment in PNC Park history.
A slow roar grew into a loud yell as a message was displayed on the jumbotron during catcher Mike McKenry’s at-bat in the 4th inning.
Snubbed for a week, Andrew McCutchen finally caught word that he was heading to Pheonix for the All Star Game. The crowd was loud and rose to their feet, triggering McCutchen out of the dugout to acknowledge the crowd. A curtain call and he wasn’t even at the plate! His next at-bat was eerily similar. The adoring fans rose once again in a standing ovation for number 22 getting the recognition we all knew he deserved.
The scoreboard also displayed another important message.
Just as in Cleveland, this drew a mixed reaction. I yelled and clapped profusely. Again, I’m not a Yankees fan by any stretch of the imagination, I just respect historic feats and the Yankees are pretty good at recording them. I was lucky enough to have watched his momentous 3,000 hit on mlb.tv with my dad, earlier in the day. It was an unfathomable event I won’t soon forget.
After being away from the game I love, I think this week drew me back to what I have known all along. I’m a rare breed. We all are-anyone reading this. Baseball is a game that can only be appreciated by those who cling to it. It will always have its naysayers, they simply do not know what they are missing. No sport provides the magic, memories or momentum that baseball does. Honestly, that’s why I feel the Pirates are doing so well this season. Those three M’s have all come together and created a fourth-moments. Baseball is full of them, each pitch to be exact. Some are good and some are bad. With 162 games there is enough time to experience a lot of both.
Obviously fans want to see more good than bad, but to those who grasp the full circle of the game, the good comes a bit easier.
That’s the mark of a true Pirates fan, in a nutshell.