Root, root, root for the … Pirates?

Posted October 9, 2013 at 10:27 am

OCT. 9 HOME STRETCH COLUMN — PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR

It’s funny how your sports allegiances can change over the years. And it’s amazing how your kids can affect those allegiances.

Maybe the thing that’s most surprising, at least to me, is how I can come to love teams that I once hated.

“Love” and “hate” are very extreme words in these situations. We don’t actually love or hate these players or teams. We just want them to win (or lose). Every time.

Still, it’s hard not to love this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates.

Stop. I had to go back and read that sentence again. It’s so strange to think that, with my Twins long since out of the picture, I’ve hitched myself to the Pirates bandwagon for as long as they last in these Major League Baseball playoffs.

Last week, I posted something on Facebook about cheering for the Pirates. An old college roommate had this reply: “I remember when you used to hate them.”

True. I used to “hate” the Pirates. In 1979, the Willie Stargell Pirates were playing in the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. In that Series (the last one that included Pittsburgh), the “We Are Family” Pirates made a dramatic rally from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Orioles. While the rest of the nation seemed to be celebrating, I was fuming.

In those days, I took wins and losses of the teams I was cheering for – even if it wasn’t “my” team – very, very seriously. The wrong team winning the Rose Bowl, for instance, could send me into a day-long funk.

I’ve grown up (some) since then, and my world doesn’t end (usually) when a bunch of pro athletes I’ve never met defeat another bunch of pro athletes I’ve never met.

Pittsburgh is in the baseball postseason for the first time since 1992. No matter what kind of droughts your favorite teams have gone through in recent years, 21 years without a single playoff game is a serious, serious drought.

But the main reason I now own a Jolly Roger T-shirt is my son Ian, who has wholeheartedly adopted the team as his own, and whose bedroom wall is gradually becoming covered with photos of his favorite player, Andrew McCutchen.

You’ve got to be happy for McCutchen, a superstar who has toiled for years on mediocre (and worse) Pittsburgh teams. The Pirates finally have the surrounding cast around him that has turned them into a winning team.

And it’s a fun cast. There are two former Twins, pitcher Francisco Liriano (who, like several former Twins this season, is having a career year) and first baseman Justin Morneau.

Outfielder Starling Marte (pronounced MAR-tay) has announcers falling over each other to call for a “Marte par-tay” after one of his big hits.

It’s also fun to watch third baseman Pedro Alvarez, whose free-swinging style produces plenty of strikeouts but also plenty of homers.

I haven’t actually met any of these guys, although, since Ian and I took a trip to Miller Park in Milwaukee for the sole purpose of seeing them play in person, it kind of feels like I have.

It’s been a fun ride, and I’m hoping it lasts a while longer.

Bla