For Ethan Varley, 10, and his grandfather Kevin Berry, 69, of Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs, this season’s Pirate excitements come against a backdrop of what Berry calls skepticism and his baseball-loving grandson calls “being careful.”
“I have a little more hope,” says Ethan, still thrilled after meeting All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and other Pirate players during a visit to PNC Park. His favorite: Hard-slugging third baseman Pedro Alvarez, part of Monday night’s home-run derby. “They put a little more oomph in it this year than last year and the year before.”
He and his grandfather are separated by more than two generations. Berry, a Pirates fan since the late 1950s, has living memories of three triumphal Pirates World Series years – 1960, 1971 and 1979 – and tells a story of spending an afternoon in the Forbes Field stands with his friends and an injured but friendly Roberto Clemente, who watched the game wearing street clothes.
Like many Pittsburghers, Berry, a semi-retired chemical engineer, questions some of the decisions by Pirate management over the past decade and more. He says he started turning away “when the ownership started showing a lack of a commitment to a winning team.” Now, after a series of what he calls “good baseball decisions,” including the acquisitions of Martin and pitcher Francisco Liriano and the development of pitcher Jeff Locke, “I think they have good players. It’s taken a long time to get there.”
KDKA-TV sportscaster Bob Pompeani, a Pittsburgh institution since the glow of the 1979 “Family” World Series win was still in the air, has spent a lot of time in this year’s locker room. Yes, he says, there is talent and a strong manager, but there is something else, too: An enthusiastic team is infecting a city that wants to be.
Twenty years is a long time. Hope has been shattered,” Pompeani says. “I’ve always thought it was a great baseball town, even when it was struggling. Pittsburgh has been, I think, somewhat true to its team. Even during dark and bad times. And now they’re expecting big things, but they’re cautiously expecting big things. … People are caring again.”
Pirate fans might seek solace in the words of a man whose number appears on the backs of thousands of spectators at every game – Clemente, dead 40 years, still looming over the team as a reminder of its glory days. The Great One recognized the dangers to the present of people dwelling on what was. “Why does everyone talk about the past?” he said. “All that counts is tomorrow’s game.”
Ted Anthony was born in Pittsburgh and lives there now. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/anthonyted