At some point early in 2007, I realized the Pirates needed to trade Jason Bay sooner rather than later. They simply did not have the talent necessary to build a competitive team around him. Obviously, the thought of Dave Littlefield executing a trade of Bay scared the hell out of me. I was terrified that I might wake up one morning and read that Bay had been dealt for Mark Grudzielanek.
But Littlefield never got that opportunity. Ownership replaced him, along with the rest of the front office, with very competent people late last season. On Thursday, Bay was finally traded. And it wasnít for garbage. The Pirates received a great group of young players in the deal. But that doesnít make it any easier.
I pulled up the Red Sox game on my computer last night. And I watched as Jason Bay stepped to the plate in an unfamiliar uniform. Boston fans stood and gave him a loud ovation, warmly welcoming a player that deserved every moment of their applause. Bay tipped his cap and attempted to step into the box. As the unrelenting cheers continued, he called time and stepped back out. With all of the emotions I was experiencing, I could only imagine what was running through his head. I was extremely happy for him, suddenly thrust into a pennant race with home fans that immediately adored him. I also felt some frustration. For some reason, the fans in Pittsburgh never appreciated him in the way he deserved. No matter how well he performed, many remained unimpressed. And I was also sad. He should have been in that situation in Pittsburgh. He should have experienced winning baseball with us.
In the early part of this decade, I inadvertently began paying less attention to the Pirates. I was finishing high school and heading to college, and I was worried more about things like my social life than baseball. In 2004, I had kind of a baseball resurgence. It started with a four-day, five-city trip in June. Several friends and I attended games in Detroit and Cincinnati before making our way to Wrigley Field for a Pirate game. I attended numerous games over the remainder of the season, as my focus returned to the game and the team that I had always loved. Of course, Bay was in the middle of his Rookie of the Year campaign. I was recalling how important the Pirates were to my life, and Bay was leading the charge.
Since then, there have been several memorable moments. Two eight RBI games. 96 home runs in a four game span. 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts. The sight of Bay bowling over the catcher to beat the Astros in the 18th inning. The 2006 All-Star game at PNC Park. The standing ovation he received as he left the field on the final day of the 2005 season, after finishing a remarkable year in which he played in all 162 games. The way he played through painful knee injuries, without making it public in any way. His revival this year after a dreadful, injury-filled 2007 season. I remember sitting just above the left field wall for a game in 2005. On a drive to the track, Bay threw himself forcefully into the fence, making the catch. This was just a few feet from where I was sitting. I think that single play made him one of my favorite players.
You know that feeling you get when a close friend moves out of town? Or when you break up with a longtime girlfriend/boyfriend? After spending much of your time with that person for years, you suddenly realize that you may never see them again. That comfort of familiarity is abruptly jerked away from you. Thatís how I feel right now about Bay. In the occasional blowout, when Bay is replaced in left field, there is an eerie feeling in the air. Something just isnít right. Every game from this point forth will have that same feeling. Left field at PNC Park belongs to Jason Bay. And it will be quite a while before that changes.
Good luck, Jason Bay. You have given this team and this city more than we ever expected. You have earned the chance to play for a ring, and I look forward to watching you play for that opportunity in October.