Avast! I love the Pirates, against all hope or care

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As the MLB playoffs commenced last weekend, I spent my weekend searching for tickets of the last regular season series. Planning a trip back home to New England for the AL East division series? Nope. Taking a three-hour drive for White Sox?Indians? Not even close. I was scoring third-row seats to an epic Brewers?Pirates showdown. What the hell is wrong with me?

Instead of screaming for Johnny Damon, I was watching Jack Wilson. Instead of Manny Ramirez, I had Freddy Sanchez. And you know what? I didn?t care. After spending a summer in Pittsburgh, I?ve become a Pirates fan. Fifteen home games later I?m watching these guys closer than the Red Sox. I?m okay with this.

Their win against the Devil Rays that brought the team to 30?30? I was there, celebrating with the rest of the yinzers as the team celebrated their best 60-game start in a decade. Rookie phenom Zack Duke?s home debut? I saw him ring up eight strikeouts versus the Phillies. Jack Wilson?s Baseball Tonight Play of the Year with Jos? Castillo? I spit out my beer watching Castillo throw out the baserunner at first.

The Pirates are the best thing Pittsburgh has to offer for both students and baseball fans, especially in the summer, when house parties wind down and options in the city at night become limited to bars. Five-dollar student discount tickets are an attractive deal in the middle of the summer ? there are no bad seats in PNC Park and the only drawback of sitting in the balconies is getting a poor view of the pierogie races. Even better, wait until the game starts and watch the scalpers get nervous ? most of the time you can pick up box seats for around $15.

Aside from the cheap seats, the location and parking setup breeds tailgating, combining open spaces with sufficient bathrooms to give fans a place to go before the game. You can grill up burgers and throw down a few beers before making your way to the game, or visit the nearby bars and restaurants. Plus, PNC is one of the few parks in the country that lets you bring in outside food and water, allowing you to avoid steep concession prices.

While the convenience of driving 10 minutes into town and paying five dollars for a ticket is a huge draw, what kept me coming back was the team itself. The players are young and likeable, and egos play no role on or off the field. There is no preening for the cameras ? just pure baseball and teamwork. Pittsburgh?s best player, Jason Bay, is a quiet, hardworking guy who just gets better and better, but you wouldn?t know about him outside Pittsburgh unless you play fantasy baseball.

It?s difficult to say exactly what draws me to the guys on the team. Maybe it?s how shortstop Jack Wilson couldn?t hit a lick this year, but, no matter what, strode to the plate with the Rolling Stones? ?Jumpin? Jack Flash? blaring through the speakers. Maybe it?s how first baseman Craig Wilson cut off his Thor-style long blond hair for charity, without making a media case of it like the aforementioned Johnny Damon. Or it could be the way Jos? Castillo smoothly turns a double play without creating a scene of it.
I might be alone in the way I feel. With the Pirates consistently at the bottom of their division, even fans in Pittsburgh don?t seem to care anymore. They get the media coverage they deserve, but the team gets none of the respect of the Steelers or even the new-look Penguins. Granted, Pittsburgh is a football town, but in the summer I expect more of a buzz about rookies like Ryan Doumit or Paul Maholm than someone impersonating Ben Roethlisberger.

Brighter days appear to be ahead, and maybe all it takes to get the team back in the conversations of Pittsburghers is a few wins. With the young talent the team has, and the search for a new manager on the way, we could be closer to that situation than ever before. No matter what, I?ll be at PNC Park for opening day, yelling for Freddy Sanchez, Tike Redman, Humberto Cota, and all the rest of the Pirates. They offer fans something that the Red Sox can?t: cheap, comfortable seats, incredible views of the field, and a little dignity, even in defeat.