Bring it on, Bucs!

pirates-garbAfter last year’s post-season debacle involving my three favorite Major League Baseball teams and this year’s meltdown involving two of those clubs, all I can say is “Thank goodness for the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

The 2015 MLB playoffs begin tonight with a game I could care less about: Yankees vs. Astros.

Tomorrow is when the “real” playoffs begin, featuring two up-and-coming teams — the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs — with the potential to go all the way to the World Series but with the bad luck of having to face each other in a single-game Wild Card game where the loser goes home.

Doesn’t seem fair that teams with the second- and third-best records in all of baseball (Pirates, 98 wins; Cubs, 97 wins) have to play each other while the other division winners with inferior records get a pass. But it’s their bad luck to play in the same division as the St. Louis Cardinals, who compiled THE best overall record with 100 wins.

Whoever wins Wednesday’s Pirates-Cubs game gets to face the Cardinals. From there, it’s another hurdle, past the winner of Dodgers vs. Mets, to the World Series. A tough road, for sure, but not impossible.

I had high hopes last year that the Pirates would advance beyond the Wild Card game but they were steamrolled by the Giants, who went on to win their third World Series title in five years. As matter of fact, all three of my playoff teams were bounced out after a single loss.

The Detroit Tigers lost to Baltimore and then this year went through an injury-filled season that saw them finish in last place in their division. Likewise, the Oakland A’s lost to Kansas City, then landed with a thud in the basement of their division.

So, the Pirates.

Roberto Clemente collected more hits (1,877) than any other Major Leaguer during the 1960s. (AP)

Roberto Clemente collected more hits (1,877) than any other Major Leaguer during the 1960s. (AP)

Why do I root for the Black and Gold? What sense does it make for a Northern California native to cheer for an East Coast team?

My affection for the Pirates began five years ago, when I drove my daughter across the country to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. The Pirates were just awakening from a prolonged slumber during which they hadn’t had a winning record since 1992.

During Simone’s two years at CMU, the Pirates started to turn things around. When we traveled back to Pittsburgh for graduation ceremonies in 2012, we were able to see a game at PNC Park, a gorgeous ballpark built on the banks of the Allegheny River and offering a grand view of the downtown skyline.

Simone, Lori, George & Kyndall celebrating a 4-3 win over the Mets in May 2012.

Simone, Lori, George & Kyndall celebrating a win over the Mets in May 2012.

Everything about the experience — the friendliness of the fans, the history of the franchise, the come-from-behind win against the Mets, and the reverence shown for Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, baseball’s the first Latin American superstar — appealed to me. I liked that the Pirates were a scrappy underdog, fighting to become nationally relevant again, much like Pittsburgh itself.

This year marks three years in a row that the Pirates, fondly known as the Bucs or Buccos (short for Buccaneers), have made the playoffs. I’ve watched them afar as they’ve gotten incrementally better each year. This year, I think they have all the pieces to be World Series champs. But they won’t get that chance unless they are able to first beat the Cubs and their marvelous, scary-good pitcher, Jake Arrieta.

I have an invitation to attend a Cubs-Pirates viewing party tomorrow at the home of friend and co-worker Joe Rose, who’ll be rooting for the Cubs. If I’m able to get out of a prior commitment, I’ll be there in Pirates garb cheering on the Bucs.

Bring it on!

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