I’ve spent the majority of 2020 in reflection.
The year began with my wife and I preparing for the birth of our first child. Scheduling parenting classes, visiting baby retail stores and designing our second bedroom for the nursery. Every night before I went to sleep a random thought from my past would jump into my mind. I’d think to myself, “did I handle that situation properly? Is there something I could have done differently, so I can teach my daughter for the future?”
Then the quarantine happened and my company (as most others did) went into a fully remote environment. I work for a tech company that has a work-from-home policy so it wasn’t anything new to me. With less time commuting and time spent exclusively at home, more reflection was inevitable. I spend time writing out one sentence “life hacks” that I plan to share with my daughter one day. These are based on things my parents taught me or what I’ve learned throughout my 33 years on this planet. However, one thing I hope I can bring into my daughter’s life, is the world of sports – particularly baseball.
Growing Up Yinzer
I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh just about 20 minutes north of the city. My dad worked for one of the local TV stations in the area so we had access to Pirates tickets basically anytime we wanted them. An easy ride on 279 into the city made going to games so accessible. Now living in New York, I can’t believe how good I had it with the ease of attending a Pirates game. Just a quick park in the lot and we were in the stadium.
Even the most casual sports fan knows that the Pirates of the mid-90s to 2013 were abysmal teams. I remember watching SportsCenter (as I did every morning) and am reminded by a quote from anchor Dan Patrick that said how bad the Pirates were. “He hadn’t endured these seasons as a fan, he wasn’t allowed to talk about them like that!” I thought to myself.
As bad as these teams were, it didn’t take away from the many memories I have going to games and following the team blindly. Hoping for something to change year after year after year. Players like Mark Johnson, Al Martin, Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, and of course Jay Bell might not mean anything to you but these are names that were mentioned daily in our household. At the dinner table after the proverbial, “how was school” conversation it turned into, “who’s pitching tonight?” Baseball was one of the main subjects that brought my entire family together – mom, dad, sister, and myself. Even the dogs had their Pirate’s bandanas.
Throughout that time, like most sports-obsessed boys, I was into baseball card collecting – in particular the Pirates shortstop of the early to mid-90s, Jay Bell. I thought I had a pretty cool collection. It consisted of cards, a personally signed ball, and a game-used bat (my dad using his TV connections to acquire). My mom was always extremely supportive of me and my collection. One day she told me to set up all my items on the couch so we could take a picture to send to the publication formerly known as Baseball Weekly (now called Sports Weekly). After she sent the picture and a brief write up of my collection to BW, she received a call from a sportswriter, Dana Heiss. She said the paper wanted to feature my collection in the next issue’s edition.
I was so excited for the world to see my hard-earned collection. The collection I had used my allowance money to acquire. One where every baseball card store owner in the area knew me and what I was after. The collection that may not mean anything to you, but meant the world to my family and me.
Of course not every player could last forever and Jay Bell finally retired. We moved on to guys like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez. Finally competitive baseball had returned to the North Shore of Pittsburgh. Just like with the old days of a club rooted with such history. Excitement from the glory days of those Pirates from “We are Family” was building up once again in the Steel City.
Cuetooo, Cuetooo, Cuetooo
When I moved to New York in 2011, every week’s phone call with my family involved a discussion of the Pirates week in review. It was an exciting time for the city, my family, and friends as well. I linked up with a few other Pittsburgh transplants I knew and we would go to Foley’s in Herald Square to watch those exciting playoff games together. I’ll have memories of Johnny Cueto dropping the ball on the mound and subsequently surrendering a home run to Russell Martin for the rest of my life. Although we didn’t make it out of the next round of the 2013 playoffs, I will remember that game forever. Such an exciting time to be a fan of a franchise who gave me so little.
Sharing that Common Bond
As I’ve sat in reflection over the past few months, I realized that the Pirates (and baseball in general) really didn’t give me as little as I’d thought. It gave everyone in my family a common bond together to share stories, thoughts on the most recent trade, and cheering from section 117 that I still hear to this day. My wife is from western Canada so baseball wasn’t too important to her growing up (Oilers country!). However, she is always supportive and throws on the black and gold anytime we go into hostile territory at Citi Field. She quickly learned all the rules and likes to cheer on the Buccos with me. Additionally, she has a secret (not so secret) crush on Andrew McCutchen and still follows him on Instagram even after being traded.
All of this means the world to me. It means I can keep alive my happy times from my childhood. Days at the ballpark with my family grabbing a foot-long hotdog, some peanuts, and cheering for the boys from the 412. I’m excited to share this world with my daughter and become a family who will have a common bond over baseball together. However, based on the kicks you feel in my wife’s stomach, I think a career in soccer might be in her future. And Jay Bell if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for my crazy 10-year-old self!
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