I have a very limited recollection of game 7 itself considering I was eleven years old. I understood the game at a child’s level. I would have liked to have written a better detailed account of the game itself, but I can’t because I didn’t know the game like I do as an adult. The biggest saber metric stat at that point in my life was how many sticks of baseball pack gum would eat a whole through my small intestine. However, that game was without a doubt the worst loss I’ve ever experienced as a fan, partly because of how young I was, but I was also old enough to know that the players that made up this great team were already out the door. Nobody thought the losing would be this long, but we knew it was over for a long time. I can’t offer up a game analysis other than pure heartbreak. I sat in my bedroom in silence after Bream crossed home plate. My brother came in from his room and sat on my bed watching my television with me….in silence. The next day in school, nobody talked about it. As a matter of fact I don’t think anyone talked about anything for about 36 hours. This is actually when the Steelers began to take over Pittsburgh again because this was Bill Cowher’s first year and they helped us forget that night. What I can do is offer up a story, a small personal account, of how this moment permeated throughout the last 20 years and help an outsider see into the window, and an insider empathize.
It was 2008. I was a fresh hire at an inventory company and upper management was looking for young go getters from each region to be part of a training program. It was kind of an audition in front of the higher ups and prep yourself for future ladder ascension bull shit. Basically a 4 week ass kiss-athon for low level managers like myself. The meetings were spread into one week increments and were in different locations each week. There was myself and 5 other managers from around the U.S. along with a VP level guy running the meetings and guests from all departments in the company.
The first week was in Pittsburgh and the “team” members got a pretty quick introduction to a real sports fan. This first meeting was during the Penguins Stanley Cup Finals appearance that they eventually lost to Detroit. The VP guy was Canadian so for some reason I felt an unwarranted comfort zone to drink lots of whiskey in the hotel bar and use curse words that had not yet been introduced to Canadian culture. Luckily in Canada all is forgiven when it comes to hockey, but it was noticeable that the other team members did share the same enthusiasm for sports………and booze for that matter. (I am shockingly no longer employed by this company).
This brings me to Atlanta. I felt that the tone had been set from my hotel bar performance during the cup finals, so I felt it incumbent upon myself to try to bring my A game to the meetings. They went well and after one of them, on a beautiful Georgia afternoon, it was announced that we would be all attending the Braves vs. Cardinals game that night.
I was excited. It was the first time I had actually been to an away ball park and this was when Albert Pujols was in his heyday so I was looking forward to it. At that point, as a Pirates fan, it was how we approached any game that we attended. Go to watch the star on another team and enjoy the nice surroundings. Anything to distract you from the team you were actually rooting for. Going to Pirates games over the last 20 years was like being a diehard fan of the opponents in Harlem Globetrotters games. You go in to the games knowing how it will end, so you begin to emotionally insulate yourself. If you take loses seriously 85-105 times a season, for 20 seasons, you end up looking like……………. everyone over 50 in Pittsburgh I guess.
Anyways, numbness begins to form around anything to do with the team. Pujols was approaching a decade in the league and competing in the same division as the Pirates. I should really hate that guy. He should be like Ray Lewis to us, but the Pirates were so bad for so long, I was actually just an admiring fan. The numbness was in full affect.
So this was my mindset, or lack thereof, as we pulled into park at Turner field. One of the weird things about new stadiums and arenas in this country is that many of them are built adjacent to the team’s previous home. The strange thing I find about this is that the footprint of the old stadium is usually a parking lot of the new one. That, in of itself is not odd, but taking a leak behind an open car door of your friend’s Nissan on top of the same piece of earth where the immaculate reception happened is. We delude ourselves into thinking our precious sporting memories are sacred and the grounds where they happened will be treated as hallowed soil that will remain unsullied for the rest of history. In actuality it’s just real estate. The 2nd base area where Clemente stood after his 3000th hit is now just a spot where some dickhead from Munhall in a Bam Morris jersey can dry heave on top of……. BEFORE a 1pm Steelers game.
Nevertheless, we parked the car a little ways from Turner field and begin to make our way through the lot. As we’re walking toward the stadium I see a large section of a wall with grass around it cut into the parking lot we’re crossing. It takes me a few seconds but then I realize that it’s the part of the outfield wall in Fulton County Stadium that Hank Aaron’s all time record setting homer crossed over. Even though there was an unshapely woman in a sleeveless Rusty Wallace t-shirt shot gunning a Bud Ice next to the wall, it was kind of cool and nostalgic to see.
As I’m looking back towards the wall and striding towards the new stadium I begin to envision the old stadium around me as it used to stand and I realize that I am basically at……………….I swing my head around and look in front of me and there is home plate, marked in the brick footprint of the Fulton County Stadium diamond. I looked like Michael Jackson’s date in the Thriller video when she sees he’s a zombie. I can’t believe I didn’t even connect the dots until that moment, but I was at the exact spot where Bream slid in past Mike LaValliere’s tag to win the pennant.
My knees buckled. I began to get a feeling similar to being in your house alone after you watch the Exorcist. You’re actively telling yourself that you’re an adult and to keep calm and stay cool and there’s no problem, but your mind is playing evil tricks on you. I was completely unsafe and staring like an insane person at the plate. The group of normal humans I was with had walked 10 paces in front of me, as I stood frozen, until someone turned around and shot me a weird look. I then snapped out of the standing coma and realized I’d better return to some level of adulthood. I walked quickly to catch up but kept looking back at the spot, like there’s a dead body in the parking lot that no one could see.
When we got to our seats I tried to explain to some of the other guys what happened but they obviously didn’t get the weight of it all. I was wondering silently how I should handle this. Should I find a baseball card of Sid Bream and burn it at the spot? Should I leave a piece of Pirates memorabilia there? Should I write a letter to God and leave it there? Should I go about my life like an adult and stop worrying about this stupid moment that was out of your control? People outside of Pittsburgh really don’t have an understanding of the psychosis that one play caused, especially for people of my age group. This one play ended a season in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable and simultaneously started the worst losing streak in North American sports history. Those questions were swirling through my head as I looked around the half-filled Atlanta stadium that was littered with division, league, and World Series championship banners. It was then that I found my answer and took Bluto’s advice from Animal House to drink heavily.
So I decided to take the high road that night, if blackout drunk is a high road, and do nothing. Now, on this night of nights, as we stare into the face of our first playoff game in almost 21 years, I write this article as I take a dump on Sid Breams front porch in Zelianople. I’m sorry that’s what I came up with that night Sid, but you shouldn’t have stayed this close to the burgh. LaValliere’s with me too. As soon as you open the door and see that flaming bag, Spanky’s tagging you out. That’s exactly what my therapist wants me to do, so you can’t say shit.
I feel like this went off the rails for……I guess the whole article basically. Anyway here’s to hoping this isn’t the last Bucco playoff game until 2034.