The Pirates’ run to the National League playoffs was just yet another reminder of how much Chelsea Cristine loves the sports-mad Steel City.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013. The Pittsburgh Pirates have just won the National League Wildcard Game against the Cincinnati Reds and are officially slated to take on the Cardinals in St. Louis in the National League Division Series. We’re in the playoffs for the first time since 1992, the season my cousin hauntingly remembers seeing Sid Bream in his dreams. I leap to my feet and abandon the post-game commentary, knowing what I have to do.
The crawlspace of the house I grew up in is home to a dusty menagerie of my old books, toys, and stuffed animals. I slide between a disassembled Christmas tree and a stack of graduation gowns looking for that tuft of neon green fur I know so well, the Pirate Parrot my parents gave me when I was a little girl. After twenty seasons of disappointment, it’s time for him to come out and play again.
I can blow the dust off of my childhood friend, but not the memories. This Pirate Parrot came from Three Rivers Stadium, the sight of so many landmark moments in Pittsburgh sports history: the first ever World Series game played at night, the Immaculate Reception, the debut of the Terrible Towel. It’s a history solidified by the Clemente statue and the memorabilia in the Heinz Field basement, where a black and gold fanatic can meander through the living locker rooms of Harris, Greene, and Swan.
In October 2010, I made the trip from Maryland to Pittsburgh to visit family and friends. I ended up in Hines Ward’s South Side bar on a Sunday night, chatting with a group of union women who gently ribbed my friend for wearing a Redskins jersey and asked us to take their picture. They exuded the kind of grit and compassion I thought only existed in Springsteen songs, a raw hospitality I’ve discovered in numerous other pockets around ‘tahn. Splitting a few shot pitchers with Pitt students at Hemingway’s or chatting with coffee shop patrons in the Strip District is a regular occurrence. Even the most die-hard Baltimore Ravens fan I know was softened by his first trip to Pittsburgh last month, delighted by the warmth and friendliness he felt on the bitterest of January nights.
With every visit, I add another snapshot to the list of memories that keep me coming back for more. Chris Kunitz’ hat trick against the Lightning at Consol Energy Center. The watchful red eyes of the Cathedral of Learning, surveying the buses on their routes down Forbes and Fifth. A tiny grandmother in eye black, screaming along with the rest of us in the nosebleeds as the Steelers made their 2011 playoff comeback against Baltimore. The giant rubber ducky posing for pictures in his Point Park pond. The day I shook Mike Tomlin’s hand at training camp, which sent me into a spiral of giggly disbelief for the next 24 hours.
Despite the richness of Pittsburgh’s sports-infused backdrop, the truly beautiful thing about the city is that you don’t have to be a fanatic to enjoy your visit (although it certainly helps if you are). Primanti Brothers sandwiches taste just as delicious outside of a stadium as they do inside one. But however you choose to enjoy a bite between breakfast at Pamela’s and cocktails in Shadyside, please, whatever you do, surround yourself with plenty of friends, and don’t hold the fries.
Photo: AP/Keith Srakocic