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Buctober: The Letdown

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I’ve never cared about baseball in October. I’ve never been a fan of a baseball team that had a winning record either. That all changed this year, though.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, my beloved Buccos, hadn’t had a winning season since 1992. I was born in 1995. Call it the curse of Barry Bonds, or call it “trading your best player every year,” or call it just really poor managing. The fact is the Bucs have been bad, really bad. And they were really bad for a really long time, until this year.

My relationship with the Pirates has been threefold. As a young child I would live and die by the Pirates. I remember waking up and crying upon learning of a Buccos loss. I cried a lot.

As I grew older and matured, I began to realize it may be in my best interest to not be so attached, if only for my emotional health. I began to truly not care, often times scoffing at the Pirates’ very existence. Just how bad they were was at times, to me, funny. So, go ahead, tell me I’m not a true fan.

My interest in the Pirates began to spike with the beginning of the 2012 season. At one time the Bucs were leading the division, and it really looked like that year could have been their year. But it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t.

Still, at the beginning of this season, there was hope. Granted, it was a small amount of hope, but it was hope nonetheless. Enough hope too, I’d say, to leave me curious. How would the season play out?

I’ll admit it, I was a skeptic. I was a skeptic the whole way. Probably out of caution, I never would let myself believe this was the Pirates’ year. I remember going to a Pirates game in June and hearing the announcer speak during the post-game show about what the Pirates were doing good that would lead to success in the postseason, and I thought he was absolutely nuts. I wouldn’t believe the Pirates would make the playoffs until it was certain they would and had clinched mathematically, until it was impossible for them to fall short.

Putting limits on happiness is kind of a silly thing. Something will never result in absolute happiness; we’re humans and were always going to want more. Throughout the season I constantly said I would be happy if the Pirates just managed a winning season. They made the playoffs, though. When your team makes the playoffs, just having a winning record won’t suffice. The Pirates had to win their wildcard game. Then they had to win the NLDS. Then they had to win the NLCS, and then they had to win the World Series. They did not, though.

There were many times throughout the season that could have led one to believe this was the Pirates’ year. The National League Central is one of the toughest divisions in baseball; both wildcard teams out of the National League came from this division, the Pirates and the Reds. At times, though, the Buccos looked to be the best team in this division, the best example of this coming when the Pirates took 4 out of 5 from the Cardinals in that rare five game series in the middle of the year. When it was finally certain the Pirates and the Reds would face each other in the winner-take-all wildcard game, the Buccos went to Cincinnati for the last series of the year and took all three games to earn the right to host the first game of the 2013 playoffs. This game was on Oct. 1.

PNC Park was constructed in 2001. It is a beautiful stadium. Situated right on the Allegheny River, there isn’t a bad seat in it from which to watch baseball. Walking over the Clemente Bridge to the stadium and enjoying a Primanti Bros. sandwich from your seat, all while enjoying baseball—America’s favorite past time—and the iconic Pittsburgh skyline, with the glass castle building standing out, makes for quite the experience. The irony was that despite being one of the nicest stadiums in baseball, hardly anyone was there to enjoy it. Over the past decade, attendance at PNC Park had been incredibly low for obvious reasons.

With the recent success of the team, attendance has picked up. Turning on the TV to a Pirates game and seeing the stadium sold out was something really neat, and it almost made me proud to call myself a Pirates fan. What was maybe even more neat was when I would turn the TV on to ESPN, and the Pirates game was on there. A team that was once always just assumed to be bad was now in the national spotlight.

The response the Pirates received from their fans was phenomenal. Maybe this should have been expected though, as any team who has been stagnant for so long will be greeted with excitement when they finally start doing well. Regardless, the success with which the Pirates played unveiled a new dimension of PNC Park, an absolutely thriving, loud, attentive, and overall exciting venue from which baseball was being watched.

When the Pirates earned the right to host that wildcard game against the Reds, the city of Pittsburgh responded profoundly. PNC was blacked out, and it was loud. This was, after all, the first playoff game played in the stadium, the first game played in the stadium in October. So, as with everything these days, a phrase to embody the experience was concocted and, in lots of venues, preceded by a hashtag. The phrase #Buctober was all over Twitter.

#Buctober sounded awesome. That first game between the Reds and the Pirates may have been the best game to be at, but the following two, a win and then a loss against St. Louis, had to have been quite awesome as well. Ultimately, all three games, if just for the overall experience, were games one would pay great money to be at.

I myself was prepared to pay money for the experience. My dad and I had tickets to game four of the NLCS (which would have pitted the Pirates up against the Dodgers.) These were standing-room-only tickets, but I was beyond excited to go and to experience what had been coined “Buctober.”

I will not, however, be able to experience Buctober, and this makes me very sad. The Pirates lost Wednesday night in Game 5 of the NLDS to the Cardinals in St. Louis. I suppose the home field advantage did benefit the Cardinals, as the Pirates didn’t play quite as well as they had played in the previous games. We’ll never know if the outcome of that game would have been different at PNC Park, full of its youth and general excitement over this new experience.

So, as I watched Game 5 on Wednesday, it slowly dawned on me I would not get to experience Buctober, and I was slowly let down. Freese hit one out early, and I knew the game was over. The Pirates showed slight glimmers of hope, but nothing to get too excited over. Ultimately, my Buccos let me down, again. This was nothing new.

I want to be proud of the Pirates, I really do. I’ve had the taste of postseason success, though, and I want more.

There’s plenty to be excited about in the future. The Pirates are young, and their players are, as opposed to the players of previous years, committed to their team, their city and bringing the city of Pittsburgh a World Series.

As was the case in my childhood, when I was simply waiting for that winning season, there’s always next year.

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