It's a great feeling being a Pirates fan these days.
Pittsburgh's baseball Bucs have finally clinched a spot in the playoffs after two decades of futility that included the longest streak of consecutive losing seasons in North American professional sports history.
Pirates fans are lucky to have their small-market team playing into the post season, while some wealthier, perennially successful, big market teams -- like those "damn Yankees" -- sit at home, wondering how could it be. Lucky indeed, for the playoff format allows for only 10 teams -- one in three major league franchises -- to make the cut.
As a life-long Pirates fan, I do consider myself lucky that the team I root for is a winner this year. But more than that, I consider myself lucky to be a Pirates fan period.
It's been a wonderful roller-coaster ride all these years, through -- as legendary sports announcer Jim McCay used to say -- "the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat". Since falling in love with the national pastime as a youngster, the Pirates have been my team.
And how lucky I have been to have these boys of summer in gold and black as my heroes. Early on I came to love them win or lose. Win, and the vicarious thrill made my day. Lose, and there was always tomorrow. That's part of the magic of baseball -- what columnist George Will calls its "everydayness."
How lucky I have been to have watched my team go to three World Series, that all went to the maximum seven games, and that all resulted in Pittsburgh Pirates World Series championships.
My screams, through open windows, on a late summer day in 1960, startled the neighbors, as Pirate second baseman, Bill Mazeroski, hit what is still the only walk-off home run in the seventh game of a world series.
Those Pirate teams of the 70s gave me two more World Series Championships, with images of Roberto Clemente's hitting, and Steve Blass's pitching in '71; and Pops Stargell and the "we are family" atmosphere in '79, still vivid in my memory.
And how lucky I have been -- to enjoy the feats of Pirate super stars who made games well worth watching even during the leaner years. Through much of the late 40s and early 50s, Ralph Kiner led the major leagues in home runs -- once threatening Babe Ruth's record as he put 54 out of the park. Then came the great one, Roberto Clemente, with so many MVP-like seasons.
And those losing years -- were they really all that bad? I think not, for there was still -- always -- something to be excited about -- an individual accomplishment, a spectacular play, eventually a win -- made all the sweeter by the wait. Also, I would suggest that when expectations are less, disappointment is less.
During the late '40s and early '50s, the Pirates most successful finish was winding up fourth in the National League in 1948. Lots of losses back then, but still the fans came out -- to enjoy the game of baseball win or lose.
During that period, the Brooklyn Dodgers were a powerhouse team -- appearing regularly in the World Series, but becoming World champs only once. Dodger fans seemed always to be stressed out, bitterly disappointed -- and from that came the consolation expression, "Wait 'til next year."
Win or lose -- how lucky to be a Pirates fan.