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.

Hot Shit of the Minute: Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park

Pittsburgh native Mac Miller dropped Blue Slide Park earlier this month (specifically on November 8, 2011); the album’s namesake ¬†– a section of Pittsburgh’s Frick Park. Miller is now a part of Pittsburgh’s growing musical output that includes Wiz Khalifa (both of which are on independent label Rostrum Records) and Girl Talk.

Blue Slide Park¬†started strong in its release, debuting at #1 on the US Billboard 200 chart. With this achievement, Blue Slide Park became the first independent-label debut (studio) album to hit #1 since Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food (1995).

The album’s released-and-pimped singles, “Frick Park Market” and “Up All Night” are in a completely different, marketable/poppy vein compared to tracks like “Diamonds and Gold”, “Of the Soul”, and “Blue Slide Park”. Better beats, hooks, and rhymes deeper in the line-up show a range to Mac Miller that isn’t readily perceptible in the more widely publicized/played tracks.

Get the album. Listen to ALL of it. And sample some of my top picks here:


Made of Steel.

On Sunday night, I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers capture their eighth AFC Championship. I was at a pub with about ten other Black&Gold supporters, squashed between two gaggles of Jets fans. The bar itself had several inflated Jets players outside, and a Jets flag swayed in the frosty wind from an upstairs window. We were the minority, but we were more than okay with it.

Black and yellow.

Our server, another Pittsburgh native and high school friend of a few of us in the group, stole one of the several Terrible Towels we had displayed and at the ready on the table in order to go swing it around the kitchen where the cooks grumbled. We were nervous for the state of our food but chuckled in support.

To quote something I read this morning, “Pittsburgh has won more Super Bowl titles (six), more AFC Championship Games (eight) and played in (fifteen) and hosted more (eleven) conference championship games than any other AFC or NFC team.”

Damn.

I want to state plainly that those who say the New England Patriots are the dynasty of this era (the 1970s Steelers being the dynasty of old) might be mistaken. Yes, the Patriots won their three Super Bowls in a span of four years (the second team to do so, the other being Dallas), two of those Lombardy trophies coming in back to back (wins in 2001, 2003 and 2004), but they capped a perfect regular season in 2007 with a loss in the game that mattered (falling to the New York Giants 17-14). In both 2009 and 2010, New England was the #1 seed in the AFC and yet they lost in early playoff rounds (falling in the Wild Card to Baltimore in ’09 and losing to the Jets in Divisional Playoffs this year). Dynasty? More like Dynasty of Almost.

Please don’t be confused – I am not arguing that the present-day Steelers are worthy of the title of dynasty. They still have a lot to prove. The Steelers failed to even make the playoffs in 2006 and 2009, the seasons following their two most recent Super Bowl wins. Dynasty just isn’t a word to throw around lightly.

But should Pittsburgh win its seventh Super Bowl on February 6, 2011, it would be unprecedented in the sport of football. That doesn’t make them the “new” dynasty, but it does set the franchise apart.

Hines Ward following AFC Championship win over the Jets.

As any yinzer (read: Pittsburgher) would say, Go Stillers.

HBO, I always like what you’re doing.

Sick.

Last night, HBO Sports’ 24/7 Penguins Capitals premiered, providing an unbridled look at two teams headed for a Winter Classic battle at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011. The ingredients : HBO, hockey, specifically Pittsburgh hockey (oh and the Washington Capitals), a heated rivalry – I feel like I don’t need any other lead-in info aside from that. This is a dream come true for me, not just because this show puts my favorite professional sports team in the spotlight, but because HBO brings everything they do to a different level. The cinematography is gorgeous – the city scenes from Pittsburgh were breathtaking, and the ones highlighting our nation’s capital weren’t too shabby either.
Money.

Hockey is a unique beast. It is a sport that requires its participants to go to battle several times a week at the same intensity the National Football League reserves for just one game every seven days. Hockey players are rarely divas – just watch a few in-game interviews. They speak in technical terms, they care about the game above all, and they care about winning – as a team. The NHL as a league gets only a fraction of the media attention its professional sport counterparts in the NFL, NBA, and MLB receive. And that’s why I think this series is a perfect opportunity for viewers to get a peek at the inner workings of this mystical sport. Who better to serve up the story than the premium cable powerhouses at HBO?

HBO, I always like what you’re doing.

Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

Old School flavor.

There are several Steelers bars in NYC, but sometimes Black&Gold pride pops up in places unaccounted for on the internet. I was walking along 2nd Ave. in the Upper East Side about a month ago when I caught the above blow-up football player.

I truly, deeply enjoy running into Yinzers or finding Pittsburgh anything around New York City. Sometimes, I can’t help but shout ‘GO STILLERS’ when I see a jersey or prominently-displayed logo. Though it’s not unbelievable that there is Pittsburgh pride living and breathing (and drinking beer) in NYC, I think I might need to start taking more (stalker-like) photos of these displaced Pittsburgh fans and amassing my collection here for you all to enjoy.

NYC Pens Fans Meet-Up group at Foley's.

Oddly enough, I’m thinking about watching the movie ‘Mysteries of Pittsburgh’ tonight, which I’ve heard has little or nothing to do with Pittsburgh. The mysteries continue.