NEW CASTLE —
Summer time finally hit Western Pennsylvania this past week as the sun started to shine and the temperatures jumped. The little French Fries sought relief in their backyard baby pool while the Couch Potato became the Baked Potato and cranked up the air conditioner to beat the heat.
So as the cool breezes blew through the Couch Potato household, a timeless summer tradition took shape once again; Pittsburgh Pirate baseball on basic cable.
When the Couch Potato was a mere spud back in 1992, there was nothing better than watching the Pirates play as they rolled through the NL East Division on their way to their third straight National League Championship Series appearance. It seemed that this was the year that Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke and the rest of the squad would break through and finally make the Pirates first World Series appearance since 1979’s championship team.
Well if you’re fan, you know that Game 7 ended in heartbreak for Pirate nation. With the Atlanta Braves trailing the Pirates 2-1 with two outs in the 9th inning, journeyman Francisco Cabrera cracked a bases-loaded single to left-fielder and perennial All-Star Barry Bonds. One run scored easily to tie the game, but the runner on second base was former Pirate, Sid Bream. He was old and slow, but he chugged around 3rd base as Bonds came up throwing home trying to prevent the winning run. In what would be foreshadowing of the horrible things to come for the Bucco’s, Bream beat the wild throw from Bonds and ended the Pirate's dream season.
The 10 year old Couch Spud cried himself to sleep that night due to a broken heart, but deep down he knew that next season would be the year. Well Bonds left for San Francisco after the season and the rest of the team fell apart as 1993 became an unmitigated disaster. It would be the first of 20 straight losing seasons for the Bucco’s.
I have been watching the Pirates every summer since the heartbreak of 1992, even through all of the disappointment. The Pirates were never great or really even good, but maybe you remember some of the names: Tony Womack, Al Martin, Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Francisco Cordova, Kip Wells and many more.
Even though they couldn’t win consistently, they were always fun to watch. My neighbor and I had a pretty set routine during the 1990’s. We would play homerun derby in my side yard after dinner, watch the Pirates play in the evening and then finish off with a miniaturized homerun derby in my basement at11:00 at night. I was Al Martin and he was Jason Kendall, always. Since I was two years older, I usually won those battles.
The centerpiece of those summer nights was always the Pirates though, and as the Couch Potato has now reached his 30’s, they still are.
The past two seasons have merely been a tease as each started with the Pirates looking like they would end the generation-long nightmare of losing, only to see it continue with late season collapses. This season, the Pirates are about 15 games over .500, in second place in the division and for the first time in 20 years, will probably finish with a winning record.
Even if they don’t, nothing will change as far as Pirate summer TV in the Couch Potato household. The little French Fries are now part of the tradition and while they usually can’t stay up until the end of the game, they've learned to cheer hard for the Pirates.
I just hope and pray they’re still French Fries when the Pirates finally break through.