September 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli (39) reacts after striking out the side against the Cincinnati Reds during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Cincinnati Reds won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Pirate for life: Why I can't give up on this team

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I suppose it’s been a defense mechanism. Ever since the Pirates fell out of the division race, then out of the wild-card chase, then below .500 and finally clinched another losing season, I’ve tried to stay dispassionately detached.

Writing about the team for this website has been helpful in that regard. Formulating logical arguments about the Pirates has assisted in turning off the emotional side of my brain, especially as I’ve tried to grasp why the 2012 team has regressed so violently in the season’s final two months.

But today, after I recapped Sunday’s 82nd loss with restraint, I’ve begun to realize how much this collapse really hurt. I just read my fellow lead writer Matt Shetler’s piece describing why he thought the latest disappointing summer has been the worst of the last 20. A popular video detailing everything that’s happened since the Pirates last fielded a winning club has also had an impact on me.

Ironically enough, all the despair I’ve absorbed over the past 24 hours has made me even more determined to stick with this team. Yes, I agree that coming close and failing cuts deep, but I’ve always found pain much more interesting than apathy.

September 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez (24) fields a ground ball against the Cincinnati Reds during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Cincinnati Reds won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Since I didn’t follow the Pirates closely until 1998, I’ve always been kind of envious of the fans who were around in 1992 for the “Francisco Cabrera Incident,” as one of my friends calls it. Until the last two seasons, all I’d known as a Bucs fan was the numbness that accompanies being completely out of the playoff hunt by the end of June.

Now I’m intimately familiar with the anguish of a once-hopeful baseball season gone horribly wrong. And I’ve never felt like more of a Pirates fan than right now, at what some might consider the 125-year-old franchise’s lowest point.

Yeah, it hurts. It hurts like hell, and it’s great. A Pirates fan is nothing if not a masochist, right?

I guess I’ll never understand folks who say they’re “done” with the Pirates after a moment like Homer Bailey’s no-hitter on Friday or Sunday’s giveaway to ensure another year on the underside of .500. To me, if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little farther.

I’m willing. The Pirates being relevant for much of the season has stoked my passion for baseball, and while I’ll watch the MLB postseason with a twinge of disappointment, it’s finally not a complete dream to envision Pittsburgh back in the playoffs, competing for a sixth World Series.

As I wrote last week, there is work to do to reach the next step. Climbing from 57 wins to at least 77 in two years has been the easy part. It will be difficult, especially in an uncapped sport, to reach the status of consistent championship contender.

Someone on Twitter asked me why I was so positive about the stunning downturn of this team. Here’s why: pain can be the best motivator. I expect changes to the way the Pirates do things, from free agency to player development to in-game management. I wouldn’t be surprised if the baseball operations department gets turned over, either.

I also expect to be more ready than ever for the 2013 baseball season to start, even if this one isn’t over yet.

Call me gullible, call me stupid, but you can always call me a Pirates fan.

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