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Sports

August 22, 2012

EXTRA INNINGS: Pittsburgh fans embrace Bucs' success even as Steelers play

OPINION — FOR THE PAST 19 Augusts, my guess is that scores from Pirates games were not conveyed to fans in the seats for Steelers’ pre-season games at Three Rivers Stadium or Heinz Field.

But last Sunday was different.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Dejan Kovacevic wrote Monday that the biggest roar at the Steelers-Colts game came when the public address announcer gave the score of the Bucs 19-inning, 6-3 win over the Cardinals under the shadow of the Gateway Arch.

Hasn’t it been considered blasphemy that Pittsburgh fans would grant the mid-summer Pirates little more recognition than a housecat gives a human entering the feline’s sight line?

And yet during Sunday’s broadcast, fans on the way to Heinz Field were watching the Bucs on TVs outside the Root Sports studio, even though the football game was under way. Monday’s sports talk shows heard fans talk about listening in the car in the Heinz Field parking lot as the Bucs played, staying home to watch the Bucs on TV, or (as one caller claimed) selling the tickets and heading to the Rivers Casino to catch the Pirate action.

I understand that the baseball game was significant due to its relative importance while the football game was an exhibition that moved players in and out before they had broken a sweat.

But we’re talking about the Steelers here, a team that has no off-season in the eyes of its fans, who drool when a TV sports segment in April talks about the number of cleats in players’ shoes. And if cleats story isn’t the lead, fans are distraught.

Imagine if the Steelers, Penguins, Panthers, or Mountaineers had gone 19 consecutive seasons without sniffing the .500 mark. Would a few months of winning propel any of them to the interest level the Pirates have enjoyed at the gate, in TV ratings, on talk shows, around the city, and throughout western Pennsylvania?

Everyone saw how four months of winning baseball shook up fans last summer. And now, for the first time in 20 baseball seasons, as the Bucs play meaningful games at the same time high school sports teams are scrimmaging and the school bell gets ready to ring in another semester, we oldsters recall what it was like back when the Bucs were continually a powerhouse.

But not everyone likes it.

More than one caller to radio talk show hosts insist that they want to talk about the Steelers, not the Pirates, even before camp opened.

But the charm of our national pastime has been embraced again, especially by a generation for whom this new-fangled term “pennant race” is being experienced for the first time.

Besides maintaining their grasp on one of the two wild card invitations to baseball’s post-season, the 19-inning game was the majors’ longest of the season and its 6:07 length tied the longest time for a 2012 MLB game.

Although separated by almost 13 months, the game reminded almost everyone who watched about another 19-inning game, played in Atlanta last July, a game which many cite as the beginning of the 2011 end when umpire Jerry Meals missed a call that your great-Aunt Edna could have called.

"We try to not talk about that game as much as we can as a team," Neil Walker told The Post-Gazette.

Sunday’s game indeed is one which they did talk about, no doubt, en route to San Diego. While it is true it was only one game and the Pirates couldn’t build on their momentum during Monday night’s loss against the Padres, sometimes one game can be the catalyst a team can point to as a key to success.

The last time the Pirates won a 19-inning game on the road was in 1979, the last year the Pirates won the World Series.

An omen?

Perhaps. But for now, we’ll just continue to enjoy what they give us: games that not even the Pittsburgh Steelers can top.

 

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