Earlier this summer, I started thinking about how my post for the Pirates' 82nd win would look. It was a foregone conclusion that they would get there in early August; I actually briefly wondered if they'd have a chance to get to 82 around the time that I would be home for a game on Labor Day. That was going to be a stretch, of course, but it seemed like it wouldn't be long after that that the historic win came. As always for big occasions, I wanted to pick a quote out to commemorate the occasion. I decided pretty early on that the one I would use would be the last line of Infinite Jest:
And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.
I thought it was perfect for the situation; it describes a character waking up from the absolute low-point of his life, but it's also a flashback and so we know that he's going to turn his life around. The point isn't that all of the things that happened that lead to him waking up on the beach were terrible and made him change his life, it's that he woke up at all. That sometimes, waking up is the hardest part and that simply by getting that far, things have to get better. I thought that'd make a nice parallel for the Pirates finally clinching a winning season; that we as Pirate fans would wake up on our own beaches after 19 terrible seasons, unsure of where things are headed but somehow knowing that the hardest part was over.
What's striking about that line and that ending is that you know something as the reader that the character doesn't know. You as the reader feel a muted sense of optmism, knowing that things will get better for the guy on the sand. The guy on the sand has no idea; he just knows he's woken up from something terrible and that something about himself has to change. In the last 60 games, the Pirates pulled the rug out on us fans; instead of that line applying to me as an omniscient reader, now I feel like the guy on the beach in the sand, waking up after a terrible bender, wondering where to go next.
The truth is, I haven't thought about writing the "82nd win" post in at least a month. When I was home and witnessed the team's Labor Day debacle I mostly gave up on my hopes of the Pirates making the playoffs. They hung around in the race for a while after that game, but they were never honestly going to get back into it and I understood that somewhere in the pit of my stomach after watching how lifeless they looked against the Astros. Just four days after that game, the Pirates turned in their worst performance of the last 20 years. They lost 12-2 to the Cubs, committing seven errors, bumbling their way to a loss that a T-ball team would've been embarrassed by. At that point, I realized that they weren't even going to finish .500.
This next part is not an exaggeration: I have watched maybe a sum total of one full game's worth of Pirates baseball since then. I watched most of the extra innings of the next Monday's loss to the Reds. I turned the game off immediately after the dumb, ill-fated suicide squeeze that Wednesday. I watched the early part of that Sunday's game at Wrigley Field that saw the Pirates blow leads of 6-1 and 9-5. And since then? I've been done. I don't think I've watched one pitch. I had no idea that the Pirates got no-hit on Friday until after the fact because I didn't even bother to take my phone out to check the score.
I haven't been writing much either, obviously. I've had quite a few posts written, only to be deleted in whole because I couldn't get them were I wanted them and I just didn't feel like putting in the effort to get them there. That's never been something I've had to worry about in the past. I told quite a few people that I thought maybe it was time to hang up the keyboard, that I'm burned out, that beyond the blog I'm incredibly busy with trying to finish my PhD, that maybe after eight seasons (eight seasons!) I just don't have much left.
All of those things are true. Life happens, you know? In some ways, I'm such a ridiculously different person than I was when I started this blog that I feel like pretty much the only thing that's the same about me is that I write a Pirate blog. Why force my 27-year old self to do something that I'm not sure I enjoy anymore just because my 20-year old self thought it was a great idea? And then I ask myself if that's really true. Do I really not like baseball or the Pirates enough to write about it anymore?
I've been sitting here for the past five days writing and re-writing this post. One time, I quit for forever. One time, I said that I wasn't going to quit, but that I wasn't going to promise to write that much either and that maybe I'll see you when I see you. One time, I swore to forge on ahead despite myself and pretend like nothing was wrong. I thought about just disappearing, leaving the no-hitter post at the top as a memorial to the futility of being a Pirate fan. None of it felt right at all, which is why the blog has been quiet since Friday's no-hitter.
And so here it is: it's just not time for me quit WHYGAVS yet. Six weeks ago, when Michael Weinreb wrote his story in Grantland about the Pirates seemingly finally breaking out of their infinite slump -- the piece that heavily featured my own experiences in its first half -- I got a slew of e-mails from other Pirate fans. Some were from friends I'd lost touch with, some were from long-time readers, some were from new readers. The reason that I'm mentioning this is because thinking about it now is a reminder that all I've ever really wanted WHYGAVS to be is a chronicle of being a Pirate fan. It's never been my goal to tell Pirate fans how to think or what to think or how to feel or what to feel, only to explain how I think and why I think the way I do and how I feel about things and why I feel the way that I do. I've never wanted to speak for every Pirate fan and I would never presume to do so, but simply to look at things from the perspective of this one Pirate fan and to share what that's like. To paraphrase Tolkien, somehow what started off as a dumb little selfish story has grown in the telling. I don't know how this particular story ends, but what I am certain of is that it's not over yet.
I can't promise to write every day this off-season. I can't promise to be on top of every news story as it breaks, or to be able to post about every single rumor and whisper. I can't promise to address every single misstatement from the front office. But I can promise that I'll be writing all winter, even if the blog by necessitity takes on a slightly different form in terms of content and presentation. I can promise that WHYGAVS isn't dead. Not quite yet.
The Pirates play the Braves at 12:35 today. Ben Sheets takes the mound for the final start of his career against AJ Burnett. Maybe I'll turn the radio on.
Funny to read the DFW quote here. I've seen him everywhere of late. For me, it'd be D.H. Lawrence: "The sympathetic heart is broken; we stink in each other's nostrils". That's the only way to explain Dejan's work...
"I thought about just disappearing, leaving the no-hitter post at the top as a memorial to the futility of being a Pirate fan."
I couldn't have blamed you if you did, Pat. Thanks for coming back for a 9th year!
I selfishly read this blog everyday without returning any sort of acknowledgement other than a few comments a year. So let me say this: WHYGAVS is one of the very few bright spots of being a fan of this godforsaken team. There's nobody who covers the Pirates that I enjoy reading more, and your analysis is nearly as good. (A friend and I were road-tripping to a Pirates game a couple months ago and agreed on these points, before he commented that it's a little depressing that a full-time PHD student still outperforms the people who do this as a full-time job, but that's another story.).
Thank you. Please don't stop writing.
Pat...I've been a huge Pirates fan my whole life and I'm 26 years old, so I have no memory of a winning season. I tuned out for the past couple weeks, but I can only imagine how hard it would be for you with all the work you put into this site. As the comments below have shown, we appreciate it.
I always tried very hard to avoid reading anything about the Pirates because I felt that the Post Gazette did a poor job and I just never had the motivation to look elsewhere. For some reason, I figured that blogs would just be senselessly bashing the team without any real analysis of how things were progressing. I started reading the blog this year and it is a solid read each and every day. As you stated in this post, I would encourage you to focus on what you can and don't worry about every minute detail. The quality of your work is what brings people back to your site. You have a great talent for nailing the point or asking the necessary questions if you are unsure of the answer. Thanks again for everything you've done for us Pirates fans. There are more of us out there than people realize.
WHYGAVS: Like many Buccos fans, I feel like the guy on the beach in the sand but I'm trying, I'm trying real hard to feel like the somehat optimistic reader. Welcome back, even if you didn't leave.
I quit being a Pirates fan when Bonds left for SF, Bonilla went to the Mets and tried to get Bonds to go there with him, Leyland left, and it was obvious the entire organization was self-imploding. This year I came back. This year they were in first place. This year they were 16 games over .500 - and that was after the All-Star break. This year was supposed to be different than last year. This year McCutchen was hitting .370 for a long time. I even had dreams of McCutchen flirting with .400 deep into the season. This year the Pirates had decent pitching, or so we were led to believe. This was the year not only would they break the generation of losing but they'd also somehow get into the playoffs, maybe even win the division. This year the Pirates handled the World Series Champion Cardinals in St. Louis. This year they were nearly unbeatable at home. This year Andrew McCutchen was going to win the batting title and the MVP. This year Clint Hurdle was going to win the manager of the year in the NL. This year AJ Burnett was going to contend for the CY Young. And this year Neal Huntington was going to get at least another quality starter and at least one more solid bat. Except this year turned into last year. McCutchen, like last year faded. Maybe he tries to carry the entire organization's proverbial water? Huntington traded a young arm for left-handed 0.235 hitter because "he has left-handed pop." This year Huntington got a pitcher from the Astros who already had about 135 innings pitched when traded. And this year the Pirates have a starting catcher with a $4 million contract who hit just about .200. This was going to be the year. Yeah, this year we found out the Pirates farm teams are forced to go through Navy Seals training, like it or not, and had their laptops confiscated for who knows what reason. This year the Pirates got zero for the first pick of the first round of the draft. And this year ownership gave Neal Huntington a vote of confidence...Clemente must be turning over in his grave. Yeah, where the hell have you gone, Andy Van Slyke?
I'm a guy sitting on a couch being a Pirates fan. You don't owe me anything. For years this has been a great place to come and collectively share the experience of being people sitting on couches and being Pirates fans. Part of that experience, as we all know, is that some days you're happier not watching or talking about or thinking about the Pirates. So please don't burn yourself out writing recaps of sad three-hitters in which the biggest ovation was for an opposing player. I'll keep coming back to check if you have something new to say, and maybe one day we'll all have something really good to discuss, something we can just enjoy without wondering what it means for the future. Hope remains while the company is true.
Pat, anyone who can mention Tolkien in a Pirate blog should be writing a blog. I have enjoyed your musing for over five years. Thank you and thank you again.............Somewhere Mr. Baggins is smiling......
Pat, I haven't commented on here all season, but I still read WHYGAVS all the time. Just wanted to add one more voice to the chorus of folks who are glad you're going to 'keep on keepin' on.' Remember, you don't need to be on top of every last rumor and transaction -- we have the rest of the internet for that. What we need from you is the trademark viewpoint, sense of perspective, and amazing writing that we've enjoyed since the beginning. Thanks.
You are the glue to our team, Pat. When I get up everyday, the first thing I read is this blog, the Pirates news from MLB, Steelers, Pens, the PG and my college's sports website. I'm glad I can STILL do that! Bravo for the past seven years that I have been reading WHYGAVS, and hopefully to many more! Hopefully, this time next year has us going DEEP into October and the Sister Sledge is cranking in Black N Gold homes world wide! THAT would make our "glue" totally complete!!! See you all next Spring in Bradenton, I'll be over this season by then!
I have never been as embarrassed of being a Pirates fan as I was today.
Yes, the collapse was terrible. Not just in its historical value, but in the way it happened, but seeing how that team played today was just sickening. Outside of AJ, they looked like they did not want to be out on the field. In the top of the 6th, when that ball was hit hard back to AJ, and no one was waiting at third or second to start a double play had me laughing in disbelief.
And no team wide curtain call at the end of the game when everyone there stuck around for all nine innings? You just head into the clubhouse after the final out without a tip of a hat to a fanbase that brought the second highest total in Pirates history? The lack of a simple, 20 second gesture, puts such a sour note into the most disappointing season of Pirates baseball in my years of following them.
Your blog is three things to me, not necessarily in this order. First, a way to keep in touch with the Pirates and talk baseball, despite not living near Pittsburg. Second, a blog that transcends baseball and touches on life, similar to the columns by Peter King (Monday Morning Quarterback) Gregg Easterbrook (Tuesday Morning Quarterback). Third, your blog is the best writing that I read on a day to day basis.
@whygavs glad you arent quitting I check ur blog everyday and seeing ur meltdown over what happened helped me get through my own pain
Glad you are continuing with WHYGAVS. I have been worried that it would be no more. This is the place I go when I think I have to be the only fan still stupid enought to actually care about the Bucs anymore. I am sitting here watching the first game since that Cubs series and as I type Cutch gets picked of first and again I wonder why I care, but then I remember. I Rembrandt where I was sitting on the sofa with my father and grandfather jumping up when Merv Retmund grounded out to Jakckie Hernandez to win the series. I remember Omar Moreno catching a fly ball against those same Orioles in 79 and I think this is my team. I learned about baseball from my Dad and Grandfather watching this team. Marty Alou w my first favorite player. Sorry, more than I started out to write.
Glad to hear you're not shutting it down. I've been checking your blog almost every day for a few years now! Not sure what I would do without it.
I'm with you - I've tuned out the last few weeks. At least they kept it interesting into August! Despite all the stupid bunting and shaky pitching, this team is relevant again. 82 wins would have been nice, but I'm still hopeful for next year. Keep on keepin' on.
Keep on Keeping on Mr. Lackey. You have definitely helped us as fans through this season of high ups and bottomless downs. I am in the same boat...haven't watched more than an inning after my dreadful visit to the burgh the weekend the cubs came to town but for some reason I have to watch today..whether it's just me trying to accept that we lose and that's what we do, or it's giving me hope that I can still reside in this team..I feel it's going to do something.
To be honest I have been checking every day for posts but they didn't come and I was beginning to worry because I felt we all gave up...we had to...
to next year....
I appreciate your mixed and variable feelings about the Bucs and WHYGAVS. All I can tell you that I have enjoyed your posts throughout the season, even during this yearly fadeaway. And I appreciate your effort to keep the blog going despite other demands and the frustrations of the last two months. Hope to keep hearing from you but best wishes regardless. BTW, I've been a Pirates fan since the 60's, and despite the frustration and disappointment, I've been more interested in our team this year than any other year in the past 20. Despite management and front office errors and questions, I do feel we are getting oh so close to being viable again.
.@whygavs you see my friend...in baseball life is truly eternal, and so is the hope that goes with the new day. @Pirates
"Tick, tick, tick, what little iambics
While Homer and Whitman roared in the pines."
--"Petit The Poet", Edgar Lee Masters
I think one of the things we tend to lose sight of while navel-gazing in re Travis Snider and Kevin Correia is that baseball, and specifically basebal fandom, does not happen in a vacuum, but in the context of a life, of all our lives. Sometimes, in making that connection, you get mawkish Sons-Of-Sam-Horn saccharrine; all too infrequently, you get this. Most blogs, and those of us who spend waaaaay too much time putting in our two cents, tick tick tick about corner outfielders and Clint Hurdle's choice of an 8th-inning guy. This? Ah, this roars.