There are, in the words of our great friend J. Suter Kegg, “a lot of people walking around here with ‘P’ on their caps.”
Suter would have enjoyed the last two Octobers, although having been the founder and president of a nationally-recognized Yankees haters club in the 1950s (true story — he mailed out buttons to Yankee haters all over the country), he likely wouldn’t have been happy with the way October ended for the Orioles last year.
Suter, though, would have been gratified that the Orioles finally reached the postseason again last year, just as he would have been for the Pirates this year. And, obviously, having covered both teams over the course of his career, he would have rooted for them both.
Fact of the matter is a vast majority of the fans who live here have Pittsburgh Pirates pedigrees, whether they root for the Pirates or not. After all, for over a half-century the Pirates were the closest major league club within driving distance of Cumberland.
My mother, my aunts and my uncle grew up spending their summers in Pittsburgh with their grandparents, so, obviously, everybody in our family was a Pirates fan. That is, until June 4, 1953 when the Pirates acquired Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis and Gene Hermanski in a trade with the Chicago Cubs for Joe Garagiola, Howie Pollet, Catfish Metkovichto and ... Ralph Kiner, my mother’s favorite player. Needless to say, this news was not warmly received by my mother, and by letter she informed Pirates general manager Branch Rickey that by trading Kiner he had, in effect, traded her as well. But she wasn’t going to the Cubs.
On April 15, 1954 she went to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore to see Bullet Bob Turley stymie the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, in the first game the Orioles ever played in Baltimore. Thus, because Branch Rickey had traded Ralph Kiner, my mother went from bleeding black and gold to bleeding black and orange — except for two years of canceled season tickets because of a similar matter.
Having grown up an Orioles fan, I recall that as a 12-year-old, with the Birds soaring through the American League to their third straight 100-win season and pennant, I made myself believe it would be pretty cool if the Pirates, too, would make it to the World Series. After all, I reasoned, as only an innocent 12-year-old moron can reason, my grandmother was a big Pirates fan and it would make her happy. Plus, Mount Savage High’s Bob Robertson was the star first baseman for the Pirates.
On Oct. 17, 1971 at around 5:30 in the afternoon, I was no longer speaking to my grandmother, who my mother forced me to sit beside at the dinner table that day. Nor did I ever want to see Bob Robertson again in my life. Naturally, everywhere I turned that winter I saw him, as I should have, for he had become a bona fide World Series hero.
Things weren’t much better in 1979. In fact, they were worse because at age 20 I had learned how to run my mouth and make bets with my friends who were Pirates fans, who, despite the Bucs trailing the series 3-1 heading back to Baltimore, agreed to bet me if I would just shut up. Let’s just say it wasn’t long after Omar Moreno caught the ball for the final out of Game 7, that I slinked out of town under more cover than when the Colts left Baltimore. In fact, I saw Brian Femi the other night for the first time in about 20 years, and the first thing he said to me was, “Don’t you still owe me five bucks?”
From 1971 on, my Orioles friends and I have not been Pirates fans. We’re still not, for despite what my friends Mike Sawyers and Daggett say, it is impossible to have two favorite teams in the same sport. In fact, it will be interesting to see this month if Sawyers finds this out the hard way as I did in 1971.
Having said that, through all the years of losing by both the Orioles and the Pirates, having now become a friend of Bob Robertson’s, and through the aging process, I have found, that while the Orioles will always be my favorite team, I cannot possibly not pull for the Pirates to do well this postseason. Call it what you will — maturity (nah!), revisiting my family’s roots (possibly), or having wonderful friends who are Pirates fans (definitely). Or, perhaps this mellowing has come about from my pure affection for the game, because the first time I saw Andrew McCutchen play baseball my eyes fell in love.
All I know is it’s just nice to see baseball fans other than Yankee fans wearing happy faces around here in October. And it’s been even nicer the past two years that most of those happy faces have belonged to those who live and die for and who love the two home teams.
And yes, even my mother, on a Ralph Kiner grant, is rooting for those Bucs.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org