“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
Having passionately followed Pittsburgh sports for at least 20 years, I have endured many agonizing moments. Glenn Braggs robbing Carmelo Martinez of a home run in 1990. David Volek’s overtime goal in 1993. Larry Brown’s second interception in Super Bowl XXX. But as you might expect, Francisco Cabrera’s two-run single in 1992 easily tops them all.
I still vividly remember watching the play. We were sure the game was won. Heading into the ninth inning, there were smiles all around as we prepared for a pennant celebration. Then, just moments later, it was gone. I experienced a unique feeling of emotion as the ball sailed past Jay Bell’s futile lunge. Everything slowed down as the ball bounded precariously into left field. As the play approached home plate, I was aware of the chaotic roar that was growing at Fulton-County Stadium. But the shock of what I was witnessing blocked sound from entering my mind. I heard only silence as Sid Bream slid in ahead of the throw and was mobbed by his teammates.
I was stunned. I watched without expression as the Braves celebrated the dramatic victory. I stared at that television for a long time after the game ended. Most people can describe the tears they shed after that game. But there were no tears for me. I simply sat there in that stunned silence, unable to comprehend what had just happened.
Moments after Bream scored, a camera caught Andy Van Slyke sitting in center field, watching the celebration. It is a shot that has represented the Pirates for the past 16 years. The organization sat down in a daze next to Van Slyke after that game, and never stood back up. The Braves knocked the proud franchise to the ground, and it closed its eyes and prayed for the bell to ring.
Yesterday, the Pirates tied the record for consecutive losing seasons in the most appropriate of styles. It wasn’t spectacular enough to blow a 5-0 lead and ultimately lose 11-6. The monumental scene was a disastrous fourth inning, in which the Pirates allowed ten runs on nine hits and two errors. It was a beautiful microcosm of this streak of futility.
However, there is currently a difference in the franchise.
This organization is no longer sitting on the ground defeated. It is on its feet. Sure, it is still getting beat up. You can’t sit for 1.5 decades and expect to have your legs under you when you stand up. It will take some time before you’re steady. Then you will have to do some light exercising. Then, some more intense workouts. Eventually, you will be in good enough shape to defend yourself.
This franchise is standing and determined. It got to its feet last season with the overhaul of the front office. It began steadying its legs with an increased scouting budget, a new Dominican facility, a strong draft in June and the beginnings of a rebuilding project at the trade deadline.
Obviously, there is still a long way to go. It is extremely difficult to be optimistic when you tie a record for long-term futility by way of an exceptionally ugly loss. But for the first time in many years, there is some actual hope for the future. And while it seems like we have been basing the past 16 years on hope, this is the first time that we have a legitimate reason to do so.