Starkey: Oh yes, 82 wins mean a lot
By Joe Starkey
Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 11:03 p.m.
The Pirates have no plans to acknowledge win No. 82 with anything but a round of handshakes, just like any other win.
Which is as it should be.
No self-respecting athlete, coach or front-office executive would dare revel in a feat as dull as breaking .500, although team owner Bob Nutting has said he will celebrate the moment quietly. He has earned the right.
Many of you will celebrate loudly, from what I gather.
And that, too, is as it should be.
The Pirates have been the crazy uncle of Pittsburgh sports — the relative you don't want to talk about let alone introduce to anyone — for the better part of 20 years.
How many times have you been out of town talking sports when the topic turns to baseball, and you suddenly launch into operation shutdown?
Twenty minutes earlier, you were providing enthusiastic updates on the Steelers or Penguins. Now you're quieter than John Russell. Now you're shriveling like Kip Wells with two on and two out in the bottom of sixth.
For nearly a generation, the Pirates were a blight on the community. An embarrassment to a fiercely proud sports city. They remain, until win No. 81, the team with the LONGEST LOSING STREAK IN SPORTS HISTORY.
So often, over the course of two tortuous decades, the only way to cope with this franchise was to laugh at it.
Remember the T-shirt:
THE CITY OF CHAMPIONS
(and the Pirates)
So even if the goal posts have moved in the midst of a thus-far stunning 2013 season — even if the 82nd win might be nothing more than a speed bump on the road to 90-plus — you better believe it will mean a lot to a lot of people.
It will mean that the Pirates, by definition, are winners once again.
It will mean that somebody else can have the longest active losing streak in sports (although No. 81 will officially end the streak).
And it will mean that one Kevin Redford of Canonsburg can finally start drinking.
Redford, 31, claims he has never taken a sip of alcohol. That will change the night of win No. 82. Redford will opt for scotch because his Uncle John, who passed away in June, was a scotch drinker.
“Everybody said, ‘He's sitting in heaven sippin' scotch,' ” Redford said. “So I thought, if I start drinking, I'll start with scotch … but I'll need a reason.”
A lifelong Pirates fan, like his father, Redford has vague memories of watching the team's last winner in 1992 (as such, perhaps he should launch his drinking career with a bottle of Sid Bream).
“I'll start with a shot and see what happens,” Redford said. “I probably can't last much longer than that.”
Meanwhile, in St. Clairsville, Ohio, an avid 26-year-old Pirates follower will crack the two bottles of champagne his father has been keeping next to a big-screen TV in the garage, where they watch Pirates games together.
Kurt Clifford and his dad would have gone to World Series in 1992 “if Sid Bream hadn't been safe,” Clifford said. His father has never seen the replay, reflexively turning away whenever it comes on.
Natrona Heights native Josh Carney might cry when the Pirates win their 82nd game. He was born Aug. 28, 1992, or 75 days before Francisco Cabrera's homicidal single killed the Pirates.
Act like you've been there?
What if you haven't?
Carney, a senior at IUP, has never consciously witnessed a Pirates team finish a season with more wins than losses.
“I think I started following the Pirates when I was 7, and it never really hit me until I was about 13,” he said. “I'd be talking with friends, and we'd say: ‘Why are the Pirates so bad?'
“I joke about it and say I'll cry when they hit 82, but I'm dead serious. I will probably shed a tear because it will mean they won't be the laughingstock of baseball anymore.”
I've been posing the question — “Will 82 mean anything to you?” — in various forms over the past week, whether by social media or in person at games.
A small percentage have said it will mean little or nothing. The vast majority … well, this is merely a sampling of Twitter responses to my question:
• @sportsmonger: huge deal, i watched that last playoff game in 92 in my dorm room and when Braves won I tossed tv out 3rd floor window
• @Ecmp1978: yes it will. And why shouldn't it? People are sick of losing
• @joshuabobby: actually planning to watch with my buccos fans in dc. Gonna be a party
• @VPMantoothV: it will mean I can finally relax and enjoy the pennant race … with that monkey dead and gone
• @rogerhuffman86: I'm 27. I've never seen it. Will mean the world to me.
• @Kaitie_with_a_C: I have (several times) imagined Greg Brown's call for the final out for 82. Excited.
• @Patricknero: Absolutely! “21” will refer to the “Great One's” number and not another losing season
• @Patrick_Neville: It means a ton. I've taken crap for being a Pirates fan for 20 years. It's only a step, yes, but also a giant leap.
Yes, that's it: One small step for the Pirates, one giant leap for the people who follow them.
Drink responsibly, Kevin.
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