PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — What is the most telling sign of the times in this town? Sid Bream is smiling for its baseball team, and not at its expense.
The Pirates eked out a 1-0 win over the Texas Rangers in Arlington, their all-too-long-anticipated 82nd victory of the Bucco fan catharsis that has been the 2013 season.
When the end of “The Streak” was imminent, ESPN baseball writer Jerry Crasnick caught up with members of that last winning Pittsburgh club, the 1992 Pirates–one of the most talented teams of its era, yet a team that was ultimately remembered for the wrong reasons.
Rich Donnelly, a coach on that team, now works as a minor-league manager in the New York Mets organization, which dealt outfielder Marlon Byrd to Pittsburgh via waivers at the end of August. Byrd provided the historic winning run Monday night thanks to an RBI double by third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
“I live in Ohio in the Tri-State area, and I know what it did to that city,” Donnelly said. “It was like a death in the family. People had to get counseling. There were guys who had talk radio shows who couldn’t even speak. We got on that plane home, and Andy Van Slyke called it ‘the flight to nowhere.’
“Bubba (Donnelly’s son, an RMU basketball player at the time) cried so much that night, his eye got infected. He went to the eye doctor the next day, and while he was in the chair getting the eye exam talking about what happened, the doctor started crying. Then the nurses started crying too. It took the heart right out of everybody.”
“As a player, you don’t realize how much of an impact you have on the culture in a city until you get away from it,” All-Star center fielder Van Slyke said by phone to Crasnick. “Twenty years later, people tell stories about how they stayed at a rain-delay game for 2 1/2 hours and you got a hit and sent them home happy, and they had to drive six hours and get up early for work on Monday. A girl in St. Louis told me she still has one of my old T-shirts from a Pirates team giveaway in her wardrobe. She doesn’t wear it, but she still has it as a token of a memory.”
Bench coach Jeff Banister, one of the organization’s most loyal employees through all the losing, received help from 1992 catcher Mike LaValliere instructing Pirate catchers this past spring training. At that point LaValliere had a feeling history would finally be made.
“At the end of spring training, they sent some major leaguers down to Triple-A,” LaValliere told Crasnick. “In years past, they had Triple-A guys playing in the big leagues. That was the tipoff to me that they had a solid team. They were so much deeper and had so many good arms, I’m not surprised about what’s happened. Personally, I’m not looking for them to break any losing streak. I’m looking for more.”
Click here to read Crasnick’s full story.
Fittingly, native son and second baseman Neil Walker–who, as legend has it, wouldn’t have been born were it not for the benevolence of Roberto Clemente–assisted on the final out of Monday’s game. Walker acknowledges there are bigger hills to climb, but took time to celebrate:
What a 82 Buccos Victory, love these guys! You know #21 Roberto and #8 Pops are smiling down on us, now lets go get the division!
— Neil Walker (@NeilWalker18) September 10, 2013
“Pittsburgh is not the City of Champions for nothing,” 1992 shortstop and current hitting coach Jay Bell told the Tribune-Review’s Rob Biertempfel Monday. “There’s a higher, bigger meaning that just getting over .500. We want to be great.”