Pittsburgh's North Shore. Much of the city's rich sports history has been carved on the banks of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. The Steelers and Pirates were founded here. The founder of the Steelers, Art Rooney himself, was born there as well.
The city's football and baseball teams once shared a stadium here. Today, they play in separate facilities. In actuality, these neighbors are located less than a half mile from each other.
In reality, they are worlds apart.
It's astonishing how arguably the most well-operated franchise in North America plays two blocks away from what many believe to be the worst-run team in sports. This situation on Pittsburgh's North Shore could be compared to the difference between the opposite sides of the Berlin Wall.
To put it in perspective, the Steelers hoisted the Lombardi trophy last February; meanwhile, the Pirates finished dead last in the NL Central. The Pirates recently tied an MLB record with 16 straight losing seasons; meanwhile, the Steelers were statistically the winningest NFL team in that same stretch and won two of three Super Bowls they participated in.
With the weather getting warmer, Steelers fans have put away their Terrible Towels for Sidney Crosby jerseys and authentic New Era Pirates caps. However, the mighty Penguins only take 'Burgh fans so far into, hopefully, June before baseball is the only sports show in town...ouch.
Attendance remains relatively steady considering the team's dreadful performance.
So, what does continue to draw fans to the games? Is it blind hope? Could it be that PNC Park is the most beautiful sports venue in baseball? Maybe it's the Pierogi Race! (It's just like it sounds.)
Regardless, for a town that has a tremendous fanbase and such a legacy, the Pirates certainly are an anomaly. In a city where winning it all has become expected, there is no guarantee on just how long the fans' patience will last before things get ugly...okay...uglier.
In 2007, a walkout was staged in the middle of a Pirates game. The participation was minimal, but it sent a message. The team fired Dave Littlefield, their GM at the time, to appease the fanbase and hopefully usher in a new mentality when it comes to winning.
Unfortunately, little has changed in how the team is run. Team owner Robert Nutting still makes money hand over fist from loyal and yet gullible fans who continue to pay to watch a second-rate team. Why fans still insist on attending is anybody's guess. As sports fans, they have endured what is close to the biblical story of Job. So, why do they watch?
I call it love.
Love that, even when they were down, the city still ponied up millions of dollars to keep the franchise from relocating in 1999. Love that, even when the team owner sits in his sky box counting his money and laughing at fans, people still cheer on their Buccos.
This town does indeed care about their baseball, and they only want what is best for the team. That pleasant reminder to their beloved Pirates is simple.
"You're a Pittsburgh team, now play like one!"