High Seas: A Diatribe Against the State of Wisconsin

Over the past two weeks, Pittsburgh has lost one game. What sport is this? It might be football, where a loss in two weeks would be… well, mediocre, in a sport where teams play a game a week. Could it be hockey? No, because after the Penguins crapped the bed earlier this month and knocked themselves out of the playoffs, I’m not a hockey fan, and as we talked about two weeks ago in this column, I’m not upset about that, and I have not cried, because I am a man, and I am an American, but the point was, they aren’t playing hockey right now, although the Rangers are, and shut up about it, but I wouldn’t be writing about it even if they were, because it’s a stupid sport, okay??? Basketball and baseball are both impossible, because Pittsburgh doesn’t have a basketball team, and baseball plays six or seven games a week, most of which the Pirates lose. So it must be… oh, I’m hearing it’s the Pirates. They did what?

One loss in twelve games? Yessir. They now stand a game and a half above the Atlanta Braves for first in the league, and above the Milwaukee Brewers for first in the division. This past week, the Bucs played three against the Dodgers, winning two, and then swept the Nationals in a day-night doubleheader on Saturday. (The third game is Sunday; you’ll know the results, but when writing this, I did not.) This did two things. One, it improved the Pirates’ record in the past two years to 7-2 against Los Angeles, a remarkable record given that the Dodgers won the World Series just three years ago (and that Tuesday night, the only day this week the Pirates lost, saw the Buccos outplay the Dodgers in every statistical category but give up an unfortunately-timed three-run homer). The second is that it cemented Pennsylvania’s — and especially Western Pennsylvania’s — complete and total ownership over the state of Wisconsin.

“Ask not what your country can do for you,” John F. Kennedy once said, “but ask what you can do for your country.” These are profound words, and upon hearing them, Pennsylvania chose to travel back in time two hundred years and craft the nation. Many other states took up similar responsibilities, although none as fair or noble as Pennsylvania. New York birthed the financial markets. Delaware built beaches for the common man. Florida became a spring break paradise. Ohio elected John Kasich.

Sidenote — what happened to John Kasich? The man got elected governor of Ohio, which I imagine is kind of hard to do. Then he ran for President, and nobody liked him, except for Arnold Schwarzenegger — yes, that Arnie, the Austrian bodybuilder who got himself elected Governor of California and now makes weird videos every once in a while — until he won Ohio, announced “as Ohio goes, so goes the nation” in front of a big screen saying “as Ohio goes, so goes the nation,” got proved wrong, dropped out, claimed Donald Trump offered him the vice presidency and control of “all domestic and foreign policy,” which is everything, but he rejected it, then stopped being governor of Ohio, then voted for Joe Biden, and then disappeared. I will never not be confused by him. End sidenote.

But what about Wisconsin? They took those wise words, the fine-tuned craft of a brilliant statesman-turned-martyr, and decided to give America two things; the Green Bay Packers and cheese.

The Green Bay Packers are famous for three reasons; Vince Lombardi, Aaron Rodgers, and Lambeau Field. On the surface, that’s not a bad list; dig a little deeper, though, and it’s really quite sad. Lombardi coached the Packers for nine years, coming to be known by his brilliant tactics and his gap-toothed smile. Yet in 1968 — having just won two straight Super Bowls — he left, taking his talents to Washington and turning a team that had posted fifteen straight losing seasons into a winner. Of course, they still weren’t good, but that’s the price of doing business. Even the Super Bowl couldn’t convince its trophy’s namesake to stay in the hellfire that is Wisconsin. And oh, that gap-toothed smile? That gap was created thanks to a particularly hard hit in a 1936 game against… you guessed it, against Pitt. Score another one for Pennsylvania.

As for Rodgers, the jokes write themselves. After a Hall of Fame career in Green Bay, he’s spent this entire offseason publicly clamoring for a trade to the Jets — yes, the same Jets, the ones that finished 7-10 last season and lost their final game because they were so unmotivated that they just rolled the football out of their own end zone — and finally got it this week. How desperate do you have to be to want to leave and play for the Jets? I’ll tell you. It’s what happens when you live in Wisconsin. And Lambeau… you know how cheeseheads always tell you that nobody likes playing at Lambeau? Yeah. Could it be that maybe, just maybe, it’s not at all because the Packers are scary? Maybe it’s just because northern Wisconsin is frigging cold? If your selling point as a state is “nobody likes coming here,” perhaps you should reconsider your priorities.

Wisconsin sucks. In 2016, the Penn State Nittany Lions beat the Wisconsin Badgers in football’s Big Ten Championship. Little State College, Pa., nestled in the mountains, was triumphant, a melee of joy. Madison, Wisconsin, far bigger and supposedly far more powerful, was distraught. That’s good. They deserve to be.

And the cheese, oh, the cheese. I’m not even gonna have a go at the cheese. It’s fine; it’s nothing to write home about, but this article isn’t having a go at the cheese. It’s having a go at the state writ large.

Wisconsin sucks. Its biggest city, Milwaukee, is, if I’m being generous, a moderately important suburb of Chicago. Despite being directly due north, the highway between the two, Interstate 94, is signed east-west. Deep down, I think this is fundamental Wisconsin logic. I might be in Milwaukee, and trying to leave. “How do I leave Wisconsin?” I think. “You go to Chicago.” So I follow signs for I-94, and finally get to the ramp. “What the fuck?” I ask. My options are east and west, but Chicago is south. So which way do I go? I can’t figure it out. I’m getting hungry. My car is running low, from idling at the ramp, trying to decide how to escape the state. So I go to a gas station, buy some food, pump a tank. It all costs seventy dollars. Of that, the state pockets four dollars.

Congratulations. You just made Scott Walker’s old office four dollars richer. Oh, you forgot about him? I didn’t. I just don’t feel like talking about him.

And you’re still stuck trying to figure out how to get out. (For your information, if this ever happens to you, it’s east. I-94 East is straight due south to Chicago. Get out while you can.)

Two final notes I’d like to end on. One is actually baseball-related — with every passing week, this looks less and less like a fluke. The Pirates are currently on a four-game winning streak, the longest they’ve had (except last week) since 2019, and nobody has even noticed. That’s how I know we’re doing well. The statheads at FiveThirtyEight agree. Coming into the season with just eight percent playoff odds, Silver and Company have given the Bucs progressively better odds each week, reaching 11 percent two weeks ago, then 21 percent last week, and a staggering 38 percent now. For the first time, Silver projects the Bucs to finish with a winning record — 83-79, to be precise, the best Pirates mark since 2015. This team might, just might, be the real deal this season.

And one is personal. I don’t know how many people actually read these columns; I think it’s mostly the wonderful sports editor, morbidly curious friends, and any other unfortunate soul who happens to stumble across it. But whoever you are, I hope you know what you mean to me. It’ll be four months before I reach you again, in the dying days of August. Hopefully, by then, we’ll still have a winning record, and be in the thick of a playoff chase. But do me, and more importantly, yourself a favor. Follow this team, because this is something special, something we haven’t seen in this town in a long time. In my very first High Seas article, I said that if this team didn’t suck, it would be beautiful to behold it together. And you know what? I was envisioning a .500 season, not the best team in the NL.

If we keep up even a fraction of this pace, it really will be beautiful to behold it together. Have an incredible summer, and fill it with as much baseball as you can or want to. Dear reader, I’ll see you on the flip side.