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Pirates

Kovacevic: Pirates' resilient fans merit salute

| Monday, July 18, 2011

Gerry Ryan, a retired nurse living in Lawrenceville, hadn't seen anything like it in all her years as a Pirates season-ticket holder: She had gone to PNC Park's box office Saturday to buy additional tickets for relatives, and the line snaked back into a seldom-used serpentine. Four windows were open, three more than usual. And it would take 20 minutes to make the purchase, about, oh, 20 more than usual.

"Amazing," Ryan told me. "Nice to see Pittsburgh fans jumping on the bandwagon after all these years. Me, I'm a diehard."

Wendy and Joe Golembiewski moved to southern California in 1998 and still rooted for the Steelers and Penguins, though they gave up on the Pirates shortly thereafter. This summer, they are back to watching the Pirates and admitted to me in an email they feel "conflicted" about it.

"I don't want to be a bandwagon fan," Joe wrote. "Is there some penitence I should pay• Maybe a few lines of 'We Are Family?' Let me know so I can have a clear conscience when I watch the games."

Some reconciliation clearly is in order.

But, rather than suggest that Joe or his fellow bandwagoners start singing in the streets, I propose they simply tip their caps to those who stuck it out ...

Those who tolerated Raul Mondesi going AWOL, Derek Bell retiring to his yacht, Jeromy Burnitz counting his cash, Kris Benson nibbling at corners, and Kip Wells heroically overcoming hangnails.

Those who, on the morning PNC Park opened its gates, mourned the loss of Willie Stargell.

Those who watched Turner Ward smash through a wall, Al Martin dive into the Dodger Stadium seats, and Brian Giles scale a fence like Spider-Man, only to be teased by their peers for supporting a team that allegedly had no talent, no heart.

Those who sat in silence in April 2010, sick to their stomachs, as the Brewers touched home plate for the 20th time in one afternoon.

Those who came to grips with Barry Bonds leaving for nothing and becoming the all-time home run king; Jose Bautista leaving for nothing and becoming the current home run king; Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez being traded for what now is one Double-A reliever each; and, always atop this list, Aramis Ramirez being handed to the Cubs to balance the books.

Those who survived six years, one month and 26 days of Dave Littlefield.

Those who were unable to fully enjoy the Steelers' and Penguins' triumphs because some wiseacre's photo-shopping of a Pittsburgh road sign -- "City of Champions ... and the Pirates" -- went viral on the web.

Those who fumed at ownership first for losing $30 million, later for making $20 million, and generally for failing to instill hope, the heartbeat of any franchise.

Those who were flummoxed at why Randall Simon would swing at a sausage, why Batman spoke ill of the Pirates, or why a racing pierogi was fired for a Facebook post.

Those who were flummoxed by Lloyd McClendon's incessant usage of the word "flummoxed."

Those who heard the Sax Man on the Clemente Bridge, just a month ago, playing "Rocky" for all those Philadelphia fans and shouting, "Let's go, Phillies!" Here's betting the Sax Man is playing a different tune these days.

Those who stayed in their seats until the final meaningless Kevin Young home run of another lopsided loss.

Those who cringed at "Let's Go To Work," "Come Hungry" and, of course, "We Will," the slogan so stupefying that it ensured the Pirates would never try another.

Those who attended the home finale two years ago, eager for a crumb of a reason to cheer in another lost season, and witnessed John Russell pulling Zach Duke one out shy of a complete game. To this day, I never have heard the place angrier.

Those who wore a Roberto Clemente shirt to school because it was the only way to show support for the Pirates without being mocked at recess.

You know who you are.

You'll be back at the ballpark tonight, same seats, same as any Monday night against the Reds the past two decades, rain or shine, first place or historic failure. And you'll bring your own bottled water.

But if that's not enough to earn you the proper recognition, hey, I saw this teenager on Sixth Street, Downtown -- couldn't have been a day older than the 18-year losing streak -- wearing a T-shirt that read, "I was a Pirates fan before it was cool."

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