Mark Melancon was making his fifth appearance as closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was July 31, “Thunderstruck” was playing at PNC Park.
Melancon, the Great White of the Pirates Shark Tank with Jason Grilli on the mend, retired St. Louis Cardinals sluggers Matt Holliday and David Freese with relative ease. They each grounded out to Neil Walker, who scored the go-ahead run on a Russell Martin single just a half inning earlier. There were over 31,000 fans at the park that night, myself included. Everybody was on their feet well before this moment, but with Daniel Descalso up to bat the energy grew louder and spread wider.
“Let’s Go Bucs”
The claps turned into woos.
The tears started to fall.
This was my first Pirates game in over two months. A drought much longer than my liking, way too long for my original expectation. They were missing from my life; a lot was missing from my life. But from that moment further, things started to slowly be pieced back together. I made a lifetime of mistakes over a few dreary months and the Pirates were going to help get me through it.
But they were a catalyst for these problems.
Those were happy tears on that late summer night, but there were plenty more of the sad, mad, depressed, distressed variety every day before it.
My dream came true, I was a resident of the Steel City, the capital of Appalachia, the Confluence, the Golden Triangle, my city.
Quickly, though, that dream became a nightmare. A nightmare, that strangely enough, I didn’t want to wake up from.
I really didn’t believe in depression or any form of mental illness until I I experienced it for myself. I was depressed in Pittsburgh, my city.
This story begins in December of 2012 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Truthfully, with me, it always begins yet never seems to end, with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was covering a pair of events for my former employer. The annual Pirates Caravan rolls into my hometown and for the past two years I was fortunate enough to talk to some players and coaches, write a few stories and get a leg up on their preparation for the upcoming season.
Josh Harrison, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker, Alex Presley, Pedro Alvarez, Bryan Morris, Clint Hurdle and Rick Sofield all visited Northeast Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and North Central West Virginia fans and wide-eyed local sports reporters, like myself. My father complimented my articles the next day and he consoled me the day after.
I was offered a job in Pittsburgh. A job that I thought I couldn’t refuse. It would mean a career shift, a 9-5 (or so I thought) schedule and the task of fitting in a cubicle, but more importantly fitting in with a new group of people; coworkers.
However, I looked beyond all that. This was an opportunity to move to Pittsburgh. An opportunity. For me. To move. To Pittsburgh.
I couldn’t pass up a chance to be in the heart of it all. Instead of driving an hour my entire life I could be within 10 minutes. That’s 10 minutes away from PNC Park. I couldn’t pass it up.
I hated leaving a job I loved, with coworkers I loved. But, man, it was Pittsburgh. So, I moved in January.
And hated it
DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU GOT ‘TIL IT’S GONE
Things just didn’t work out in this new environment. Part of it was me. A lot of it was them. There were things I wasn’t told, lies I was told and unfulfilled promises. I kind of new this at first, but I let it drag on longer than it should have. It was likely just the bleak optimism that I’ve had my entire life.
What is on me is my ability to adapt and I wasn’t ready for it. I jumped at a chance to break free from the normalcy but I realized, maybe too late, the normalcy is what I need.
I lost that optimism, bleak or not, dropped 30 pounds and developed a poor attitude.
I wanted to go to Bradenton, Fla. for Pirates Spring Training. Again, always looking to jump at a chance, but it costs money — a lot of it — to fly to Florida, book a hotel, rent a car, buy tickets, purchase food, leave tips and all that other overlooked stuff that’s necessary on a vacation. Meanwhile, I was already shelling out enough each month for rent in a North Hills apartment, paying monthly bills and catching up on college loans. I wasn’t ready for it.
Opening Day rolled around in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t ready for it. I lost that optimism, dropped an unhealthy amount of weight and that poor attitude was on display each day. I was depressed.
NO CARES FOR THE WINS
I worked a lot and didn’t watch many Pirate games in April, May and June. I call that the dark ages of 2013, while most fans refer to it as the glory days. Pittsburgh was becoming a hot bed of Major League Baseball. All eyes were here on a scrappy, young team defying odds and climbing up the standings in a division, a league and a country.
I didn’t care.
Relaxation tactics and counseling sessions were my getaway from the world. The stresses of a bad job that kept getting worse and I couldn’t deal with what used to be fun. And, win or lose, the Pirates were always fun.
Three months without a Pirates game. Not just in-person. But on the radio and TV, too. My dad had dreams of visiting me in Pittsburgh, going to a game, then celebrating at my place 10 minutes away. That didn’t happen. I didn’t want it to happen. There was too much on my mind.
BACK ON TRACK
I needed to feel whole again. I needed to feel good about my work, surround myself with good people and slowly but surely build myself back up again. I needed to write again. With the support of family, friends and the blessing of a new boss I started to being those steps to being Matthew Peaslee again. I was writing, I was gaining weight and I was able to watch the Bucs. It’s the normalcy. What I tried to run away from, I needed it to bring me back again.
Melancon’s sure-fire steadfastness slowly started to erode with three blown saves in the past week. I like, I let some other chances slip away while I’m on my road to recovery. Melancon still records out, so does Grilli, since his return. Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano fend off the rough outings and hone in on their craft, too. Neil Walker gets on base, Starling Marte comes through in the clutch, Andrew McCutchen exudes his swagger.
So can I. With a fair amount of ups and a decent helping of downs. In the end, it all balances out and becomes normal again.
BUCN ONCE AGAIN
The Pirates secured their first winning season since 1992 on Sept. 9. They clinched a playoff berth for the first time in 21 years on Sept. 23. But July 31almost trumps those dates. It brought me back to normalcy.
There’s still a lot of work left to be done, for myself and the Pirates. I’m worried about the future. But I’m slowly finding that sense of normalcy once again.
Though this isn’t normal.