When I saw that PNC Park was nearly filled for Wednesday’s afternoon game against the Cubs, my predominant feeling was pure joy.
Many times I have been among sparse crowds at the glistening home of the Pirates, some on hot weekday afternoons, but many more on perfect summer evenings that seemed designed for baseball.
But now, with the Bucs in the midst of a genuine playoff chase, the casual fan tipping point has apparently been reached. Following a weekend sweep of the Miami Marlins, the Pirates reported thousands of walk-up ticket sales for each of this week’s three-game set with Chicago. Even after the Bucs dropped the first two games of the series, Wednesday’s “businessperson’s special” set an attendance record for a 12:35 p.m. game at the 11-year-old ballpark.
So why wasn’t I, the prototypical long-suffering Pirates fan, at PNC Park? Well, I live in Michigan now.
You’ll have to excuse me if I felt a bit of jealousy for people in the Pittsburgh area who are experiencing the energy of a winning baseball team. However, being an absentee sports fan has its benefits, especially in the age of high-speed internet, streaming video, social media and unprecedented connectivity.
For one, being outside the tri-state region tends to quite literally give you a sense of distant perspective. If the Pirates lose two in a row like they did this week, I can choose to simply disconnect from my Pittsburgh pipeline and amuse myself with the statewide distress over the Detroit Tigers or some other local happenings.
To break it down to simple terms, I can choose when to immerse myself in black and gold. It’s a good way to take a step back when things are going negative, but it isn’t perfect.
The physical distance between me and my teams can lead to emotional distance, too, which can mitigate some of the satisfaction that accompanies triumph. Sure, you can dull the pain of losing a little bit easier that way, but the fan experience is more fully realized when you allow yourself to dip into the lows as well as rise with the highs.
And so I find that following my teams from afar is less visceral from hundreds of miles away. Through the miracle of MLB.tv, Twitter and sites like City of Champions Sports, at least I’m able to keep my toe in the Pittsburgh pond between visits to the homeland.
Of course I appreciate every win by the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers, but times like this Bucs season make me realize how much I miss being part of the Pittsburgh scene. No amount of web access can put me in my favorite seat down the first-base line.
It’s a unique form of limbo only possible in the 21st Century. Human beings aren’t designed to be in one place while their attention is in another.
I watched the Penguins claim the 2009 Stanley Cup championship deep in Red Wings country. Lonely celebrations can have a defiant appeal, they can’t match the satisfaction of raising a glass with like-minded brethren.
For now, though, hashtags and blog posts will have to win out over peanuts and Cracker Jack.