(I’ve avoided writing this final post, because that means the trip is over. The exploration of new stadiums is complete, for now. We are back to reality and responsibility. )
But let’s pretend, for the moment, that it’s a Thursday afternoon. Rain has threatened, and canceled, baseball contests in various states for a day. As we encounter the traffic of Pittsburgh, the sky clears. The rain and cold turns into sun and humidity. We struggle to find a parking space, or an affordable lot. And when we do, we cross one of the Steel City’s many steel bridges to arrive at PNC Park.
As a native Pennsylvanian, one may assume that I have been to Pittsburgh at some point. In fact, this is my first time here. As a native Philadelphian, one may assume that I despise the Mets. That would be a correct assumption. In this way, being in Pittsburgh this afternoon is like being in Philadelphia on any day of the year. We are here together to boo the Mets.
Aaron and I wear our Phillies gear as our best way to show the Mets how much we care about them losing. Pirates fans toss us a dirty look or two, but as I quickly realize, they are the Keystone State’s polite city. They are Philly’s organized distant relative who has managed to get each of their professional sports teams to wear the same color. And they have managed to get many of these teams into championship contests. And more often than Philly, they win.
On this day, the yellow-and-black clad fans are riled up for their Stanley Cup match. They are still blinded by the glow of their Super Bowl rings. The Pirates echo this energy with an amazing 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st inning.
The Mets make this a contest and score 3 in the following half-inning. A surprisingly large handful of transplanted New Yorkers are keeping the volume up and the Mets beach towel waving in left field.
Not so fast. The Pirates manage another run in the 2nd and 4 more in the 4th. We haven’t seen offense like this during our whole trip. Also new to this park are fan text messages between innings broadcasted on screens around the field. We haven’t seen Yuengling in 2 weeks, so we know we are getting close to home.
The biggest clue that we are on the wrong side of the state comes around the bottom of the 7th. The Pirates are up 11-5, so the Mets fans start getting mouthy. Maybe heckling alone will knock a few out of the park? At a Phillies game, as we saw earlier in the season, this often ends with late inning ejections. When the ushers finally realize their jersey’s have derogatory terms embroidered on them instead of names and the cheers are really foul-mouthed jeers.
Here in Pittsburgh, however, the Mets fans’ citations of the city’s shortcomings are answered directly by a Pirates/Steelers/Penguin fan. And then the most amazing thing of the game happens. A fan in blue puts his arm around the fan in yellow. This is camaraderie over competition. This is a game, and only a game.
The Mets fans continue to yell into left field into the 9th, as their team sneaks in a pointless run. By now, they’ve gotten Morgan, the Pirates’ left fielder, to pay attention. With his team up by 5 runs, he can take the time to turn around to talk back a bit. With two outs, we worry he may be too distracted to catch the fly ball coming his way. Instead, he looks away from his opponent’s fans to catch the last out. He turns back to the Mets fans, pointing his gloved hand and winning baseball straight at them, a smile on his face. He runs to his home dugout as the fireworks go off in the daylight.
And just that effortlessly it feels, we’ve seen six games in eight days. And after five hours of driving, we are home. To the land of real rivalries and the reigning World Series Champions.