I’ve spent the last two days trying to figure out how to say this: The Pittsburgh Pirates hold the lead in the National League Central.
For the last two days, I’ve tried to come up with some appropriate way to lament the fact that the Brewers relinquished the division lead to a team who last had a winning record during the Clinton Adminstration. The funny thing is, I couldn’t. Because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Baseball, as a sport, tends to mirror society pretty well. People who have a lot of something – wit, charm, money, good looks – tend to get a lot more (on average) than average people. In baseball, teams with a lot of something – mainly money and high-profile players – tend to get a lot more (on average) than those without. That’s why it’s so much fun to follow teams like Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. It’s a constant root for an underdog. It’s a belief in miracles. Brewers fans believe that some bit of Dues Ex Machina will swoop in at the last the second and keep Prince on the team. Pirates fans believe there’s a chance their team will finish above .500. Brewers fans believe we can take the pennant every year, Pirates fans are starting to believe this year.
If ever there were two cities who could be simultaneously proud and self-effacing, it’s Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Both baseball teams fly under the radar to their in-state football brethren (Pittsburgh even more so), and both cities fly under the radar despite being awesome places filled with awesome people. This year, these two teams that nobody wanted to talk about unless they had to now find themselves with more expectations, publicity and fans than either could probably have predicted. Sure, every front office suit in every Major League Baseball team tells you their team has a chance to compete, but you have to think the head honchos in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are giddy as schoolgirls right now.
There are going to be fans who say that they don’t care about the Brewers or Pirates. There are going to be fans who say that the Pirates are a fluke, or that the Brewers will be dismantled, and that neither team will ever live up to this season again. First off, these fans are wrong. Pittsburgh’s executives are suddenly and inexplicably in it to win it, and have backloaded their team with tough young talent. Milwaukee’s farm system continues shine, and they are built for success into the next several seasons. But suppose those fans are right, suppose this is one of the biggest flukes since Billy Beane (either on the field or behind a desk, depending on which side of the Moneyball line you land on), so what?
Don’t these two teams deserve a turn at the front of the line, even if it is only for a few months? I know fans in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh think so. Underdog stories are part of the fabric of sports, and the part that every fan loves deep down in some part of their being. So if this is just a pair of Davids (though I think Milwaukee is a bit higher on that scale by this point) battling it out for the Division, it might be one of the coolest storylines we’ve had in a long time. But equally as probable is the fact that we are witnessing a changing of the guard in the NL Central. Last year was the Reds, and this year it’s the Pirates and Brewers. The traditional bottom third of the division is starting to rise to the top. Make no mistake, this is a good thing. I mean, does anyone really want to look at Tony LaRussa every day for the next ten summers? The Cardinals are aging, the Cubs are floundering (again), and the Reds are hanging on but having trouble keeping pace. It’s time for Pirates fans and Brewers fans to have something more substantial than All-Star Votes to cheer about.
I, for one, welcome the resurgent Pirates into the Divisional race. Parity and true competition is something that doesn’t come around very often in Major League Baseball, and it’s about time that we embrace it. Keep the pace, Pittsburgh, and give every hard luck person in America hope. Just not too much, our fans still want the Division.
(By the way, if you haven’t done it before check out Rum Bunter, our Fansided friend from the Pitt. It’s a one-man mission in photoshop and awesomeness regarding the life of a Pirates fan.)