Buctober – Still in Shock

I didn’t write immediately before or after the NL Wild Card game (in which the Pirates defeated the Reds 6-2), because simply, I was in shock. I think that I am still in shock. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, a town that expects its teams to win and is often rewarded (by the Steelers of years past and the Penguins) – but never by the Pirates. And when I say “never” I mean to say that over two decades of crushed expectations, bar-lowering, pity, and pain feels like forever. Sure, the franchise has multiple World Series wins! But that was a lifetime ago.

NLDS Pirates Cardinals Baseball.JPEG-0e59e

This year, I felt in my bones the Buccos would finish above .500, and that is truly all I wanted to take away from this season. The fact that they not only finished well above .500 and clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 1992 but WON the Wild Card game to stay alive and advance to the NLDS is all icing.

I root like hell for the Black and Gold (or Black and Yellow per Wiz Khalifa), but I haven’t felt connected to a season or a team like this in a very long time, possibly ever. This has been an incredibly special year to be a Pirates fan.

Tonight kicks off the NLDS – the Pirates at the Cardinals (5 PM ET), and the Dodgers at the Braves (8:30 PM ET).

Let’s go Bucs.

Party Like It’s 1992.

Only Marlon Byrd crossed the plate… and that’s all the Pirates needed.

Since I last wrote, I am pained to admit that I actually started to believe the Pittsburgh Pirates might not move from non-losers to winners. Despite their snapping the infamous 20-season losing streak with win #81, the old dear-god-it’s-all-falling-apart-now feelings started to creep back in. Four straight losses will do that to you, especially when three of those are part of a dominant sweep by the St. Louis Cardinals.

But now, September 9, 2013 is another date I get to remember.

I will remember 22-year-old rookie Gerrit Cole, making just his 16th career start, out-dueling Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers. I will remember the recently-acquired Marlon Byrd breaking through in the 7th with a two-out double, and the next batter, big bull Pedro Alvarez, coming through with a double of his own to knock Byrd in for the game’s lone run. I will remember wrapping my arms around myself with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, trying not to barf when Adrian Beltre singled to left off Mark Melancon to put the tying run on base. And most of all, I will remember the cheers and high fives from my colleagues as the next batter, A.J. Pierzynski, grounded out fittingly to Neil Walker, the Pittsburgh Kid, to end the game and finally, finally make the Pirates winners again.

Click here to watch the MLB.com highlights of the Pirates’ 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers for win #82.

A Bunch of Non-Losers.

Something I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see magically materialized in front of me yesterday evening – the Pittsburgh Pirates, my hometown and no-matter-what-happens-will-always-be-my-favorite baseball team, won their 81st game of the season, beating the Milwaukee Brewers (IN MILWAUKEE), 4-3. Why is this significant? Because that one Tuesday night victory snapped 20 consecutive losing seasons (and less importantly, gave the Pirates their fourth consecutive victory IN Milwaukee for the first time since 2002 – woof).

Oh happy day.

We can’t call it a winning season yet – #81 guarantees a .500 season, and a tie isn’t a win. But it is a non-losing season for the first time since 1992. I was a small nugget version of myself back then, learning how to throw fireballs in the backyard with my dad. I am an adult (kind of) now, watching baseball professionally, and I got to both see and help manage the production of last night’s highlights (for MLB.com). I got to slap a Zoltan high-five with my Pirates-fan compatriot at work as Travis Snider crossed home plate after his go-ahead pinch-hit homer in the top of the ninth, and again when Mark “The Shark” Melancon K’d Khris Davis to end it… end the game and end the most notorious losing streak in professional sports.

Here are the official highlights. Can’t get enough of Greg Brown. And here’s Travis Snider’s beautiful bomb.

Finding a Way.

In just this week, college football was blown away by the debut of quarterback Jameis Winston, Roger Federer shocked the world with his Labor Day loss at the US Open, and baseball’s frontrunners jockey for playoff position daily, but possibly the most astounding sports moment in decades happened outside of all these mainstream channels yesterday afternoon.

At approximately 2 PM on Monday, September 2, 2013, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (64) arrived – via the ocean – on a Key West beach, becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage (sharks!). Her fifth attempt at the treacherous, 100-plus mile journey took nearly 53 hours.

UNBELIEVABLE human.

When she arrived on the beach, visibly exhausted and sunburned with saltwater-swollen lips, Nyad stopped to address the crowd of supporters, telling them, “I have three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team.”

Nyad first attempted the feat in 1978 and jumped into Havana’s waters three more times between 2011 and 2012 before Monday’s success. Nyad’s fourth attempt was thwarted by box jellyfish stings, which led to her wearing a customized mask for various legs of this weekend’s journey.

As a woman, sports producer, sports fan, American and human, I am utterly blown away by Diana Nyad’s perseverance and performance. She embodies so much of what we look for when we follow athletes and the sports in which they participate. Triumph of the body intertwined with triumph of spirit is ultimately what I fell in love with when I became an athlete, and it is still what captivates me both personally and professionally every time I see, hear, or read about someone pushing the boundaries of human minds and bodies.

Sweet, sweet Saturday football.

Saturday marks the first time since 2000 the Penn State Nittany Lions will open a season away from Beaver Stadium, and I extremely fine with that, as I WILL BE IN ATTENDANCE. The Lions will be locking horns with the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium in the dirty Jerz (I’ve never ridden a train to a game before…).

It has been 272 days since Penn State has played an official football game (not counting the Blue and White game, even though I showed up with my buddy at our Penn State bar in NYC, demanding they put the scrimmage on). The now very-much-revered Bill O’Brien enters his second season as head coach, and something feels very familiar… oh yes, Penn State once again does not have a specified starting quarterback.

Which young skinny boy is ready?

Will it be Christian Hackenberg (true freshman, left) or Tyler Ferguson (sophomore, right)? Neither has played a D1 game (or has even taken a snap in a D1 game) in his life, which might be O’Brien’s hesitation to throw all of his blue and white eggs in one of their proverbial baskets. But what is this, the start of the 2011 season?! Cough, Rob Bolden vs. Matt McGloin, cough. We all know how that turned out, but it was severely cringeworthy for a while. No matter what happened in 2010-2011, B.O.B. is not revealing his starting quarterback until the first offensive snap tomorrow.

Quarterback situation or not, tomorrow marks another step forward. The Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions still weigh heavily on the program, but a year passing makes a difference. The courage and heart of 2012’s seniors and everyone else who stayed, coupled with O’Brien’s heightened prominence has helped nudge Penn State football out from under the thick dark clouds of last year.

We Are.

 

 

Mehhhhh.

Just a quick, whiny apology of sorts for not posting anything in a HOT minute. Baseball has owned my life this summer, but that’s no excuse. I promise I’ll be back soon.

 

 

A few thoughts mid-MLB Draft.

As news broke this week that Major League Baseball will likely suspend approximately 20 players in connection to a looming PED scandal (which would be the largest in American sports history… you’re welcome, Lance?), I find it interesting that the timing coincides with this week’s MLB Draft. Many of those implicated in the Biogenesis controversy are lauded as some of the best in the game; one of the biggest names a former number-one draft pick (Alex Rodriguez in 1993). I see pictures of these young men being drafted, many fresh out of high school, incredible young athletes with youthful builds — no bloated muscles or the tree-trunks-for-necks we see on of some of those implicated, who we have to assume had some help along the way. I wonder what kinds of temptations these draftees will face not so very far from now, the pressure to live up to their billing.

I have hope that this controversy and subsequent bringing-to-justice spurs a change in mindset, a change in the culture of baseball — something I thought the PED scandal of the last decade would have done. But as Lance Armstrong showed us, the science and technology has only become better, the ability to hide what one is doing more advanced. But the part that really irks me, the part that gets me really pissed off on behalf of a sport I love, is that seasons upon seasons, records upon records, are affected by the play of those who have been cheating along the way.

I suppose I look at this Draft as a new beginning, a chance to do it right with the new crop of baseball hopefuls. Of course these young men get to choose what does or does not going into their bodies. But we, as fans, get to choose what we are willing to accept in sports, who we are willing to hold up as role models and heroes. And we need to demand better than drug-fueled greatness.

 

 

How Real is She?

I am a longtime fan of REAL SPORTS with Bryant Gumbel, and as my HBO GO access allows, I keep up with the show at my leisure. I just finished watching the 4/16/13 edition featuring a story on Christmas Abbott, a CrossFit star now trying to make history as the first female on a top-level (Sprint Cup) NASCAR pit crew – a job that involves removing, then lifting, large tires and bolting new ones in place… in less than 12 seconds.

It also involves laying on them.

Jon Frankel talks with Abbott about her story, while also trying to understand whether her being plucked from quasi-obscurity (internet stardom) is anything more than a marketing ploy.

Below is an excerpt – I’d suggest watching the entire segment if you can and figuring out for yourself whether you think this chick is for real. If she’s good enough to make it where it counts (marketable good looks notwithstanding), then I’m all for it.

 

 

Outside The Lines.

The (now fired) Mike Rice/Rutgers scandal is undeniably terrible and offensive, but the Melissa McCarthy SNL parody featured on last week’s show is undeniably awesome. McCarthy plays (and nails) Sheila Kelly, the ridiculously abusive women’s basketball coach at “Division III Middle Delaware State”, who is being profiled on ESPN’s investigative Outside The Lines.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/476027

“That’s shitty, shitty bread.”

42.

I can’t believe it’s March. Opening Day, nay baseball, is approximately one month away. As I wait patiently, cringing at the (not surprisingly) rough beginning of Spring Training for the Pirates as well as the many (possibly damning) injuries that have cropped up across the league, I am also waiting for the movie 42.

42 – The True Story of an American Legend is the filmic telling of the historic phenom that was Jackie Robinson (and Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey). I’m not going to say how many times I’ve watched the trailer so far, but you should immediately (see below). Man.