As the cliché goes, a lot can happen during the span of 162 games. Yes, on the field, but a helluva lot of life can happen in the meantime. Since the baseball season unfolds nearly every day from spring bloom to when trick-or-treat candy lines the shelves at Giant Eagle, it coincides with life’s gradual advance.
A component of the major league game that has always captivated me is that a baseball season is like a mixtape. Let me explain. A mixtape is composed of a hodgepodge of songs. Each of the songs steers your memory into a U-turn towards the time and place, and distinct feelings you experienced when you first heard the songs on FM radio, or late night on MTV. (That’s the effect mixtapes had on this Gen X’er, anyway.)
When I reflect on Pittsburgh Pirates seasons of the past decade I simultaneously relive whatever “life” was transpiring at the time. For instance, when I think to when the Pirates peaked in the summers of both 2011 and 2012 – those quasi-resurgent campaigns – I was on vacation at Rehoboth Beach with the family. So, the start of the Pirates’ collapses and pleasant memories of the rising tide are married. (Of course, after two years I came to believe that my taking a vacation cursed the team and stalled the rebuild). I remember Freddy Sanchez’s summer-long chase to claim the batting crown, circa 2006, coinciding with gradually falling for my wife-to-be. I vividly recall the ghastly collapse of 2012. Amid the night-after-night gut punches, I published my novel and experienced the birth of my son, Uri. (“Pirates flag outside”). Until early August that year, I thought the squirt might actually be born during an exhilarating playoff run. Nope. Uri was born on a night the Houston Astros pretty much put the fourteen final nail in the coffin. Yeah, I watched that in the maternity ward.
The only span during the baseball season when nothing happens on the diamond, but life plows onward, is during the All Star break. And here we are. I’d like to stop a moment at the signpost that reads “welcome to baseball’s second half” and briefly reflect on baseball, life, and the loss of a certain back deck.
Yes, I’m leaving my sanctuary.
As a fan, the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates season began like any other, writing for RumBunter notwithstanding. After enduring a brutal winter along with my North Eastern brethren, my schedule for the upcoming summer was unoccupied, and my anticipation of a division crown was teeming. The snow on the back deck gradually melted, and dripped through the planks and on my kayak below. Before long, I swept the cobwebs off my trusty radio, snatched the IPAs from the fridge, and took up residence on the deck. No sleep until November, hopefully.
I followed the first few months of the season without real-world life events complicating my fandom. At first, the Pirates disappointed. Early speculation swirled about the severity of Andrew McCutchen‘s “lower body” issues. “Is he impaired? If so, how is the injury affecting his mechanics? For god’s sake, how do you explain his pitiful average? Awwwwwww!” Francisco Cervelli immediately impressed with his sweet bat, superb pitching framing ability, and firecracker personality. After Russell Martin signed elsewhere, Uncle Frank’s presence softened the impact of the collective plunge into the Allegheny River after a Bucco Nation suicide jump from the Roberto Clemente Bridge. And Gerrit Cole appeared every bit the ace that fans had hoped he’d become since being drafted first overall in 2011.Still, the team repeated its 2014 early-season struggles. Even so, I followed nearly every moment of every game. My Back Deck Reports are testimony.
Memories of this time of my life outside are uneventful: working, fathering, husbanding, writing, kicking rocks down quiet alleys while whistling Ziggy Stardust, and following the Bucs.
As the Pirates season began to change in mid-May, so did my life. Whereas the Pirates gained in the standings, I lost…my beloved back deck. The deck is now under contract to be purchased, along with my home, by someone I will never meet. The Bower family is moving up, apparently.
At least the Pirates are surging toward the pinnacle of the NL Central. Yes, they look like the team we hoped for. Before he returned to the DL, Josh Harrison had begun to recapture the magic of his out-of-right field 2014 campaign. A.J. Burnett has peaked at age 38, and will don an All-Star jersey for the first time in his 17-year career. Cutch has become Cutch again. The Pirates have roared back to contention. As of the All-Star break, the team sits 2.5 games back of the Cardinals.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the recent two-month resurgence. Thoroughly. What beats the final two walk-off victories of the latest Cardinals series? Now THAT’S redemption for those three disheartening walk-off Cardinal victories in St. Louis in early May. But when the snow swirls again, and I day dream back to the time when the Bucs ripped the (black) hearts out of the Cardinals two nights in a row, the vague sense of the anxiety of buying and selling a house, and bequeathing my deck, will coil around my nerves again.
My only venture onto the back deck in the last few weeks was to set up the patio furniture for the open house. I can’t bear to feel the grimy planks under my bare feet. I can’t enjoy relaxing on it and listening to a Pirates game anymore. I feel like the deck is an old girlfriend who still lives under the same roof; we’re both waiting in awkward silence, trying to ignore one another, until her new boyfriend picks her up in his piece of crap Chevy S-10.
Come mid-August The Bower family will living in our new home. No back deck, just a front porch without a roof. However, the back yard has a sprawling view of downtown and Oakland. I’ll listen Bob Walk‘s dry wit and shoot at the Met Life blimp with a BB gun.
My wish is that my first memories of the new home coincide with memories of the Pirates stampede to a NL Central division championship. Someday, I want to fondly recall unpacking boxes in the new living room while Greg Brown shouts “Frightfully Bully.” I want to joyously relive ripping down the old wallpaper in the new kitchen while Steve Blass yells “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” after a walk-off dinger. I want to blow off painting the new bedroom so I can attend the tickertape parade downtown in late October.
Crap. I fear I just jinxed the season. Apologies.
Goodbye, back deck. We’ve suffered countless soul-wrenching Pirates defeats, but celebrated a few victories too (the campaign bath in 2013). You’ve heard me curse Ronny Cedeno, and praise Pedro Alavarez (like, once or twice). I’m leaving you to a new owner. But I’ve vetted him. He’s not a Cardinals fan (or a Brewers/Reds/Cubs/lite beer fan).
We raised it good, my old friend.