March 31 was the start of the 2011 Major League Baseball season. The hot dog and beer vendors were all stocked up and ready to serve. The grass was freshly cut, and the freshly laid lime was a pearly white. Tens of thousands of extremely excited fans were all lined up at the turn-styles waiting to have their tickets scanned.
But for me, my stomach was the only thing turning that day.
The start of baseball season isn't one of my favorite times of the year. It's been almost 20 years since it felt as if though I was kicked in the gut by Anderson Silva, and to this day I still find it hard getting myself pumped up for the start of a new baseball season.
Granted, the team I cheer for is bad, and they have been bad for a long time. However, I still follow the box scores from the spring through the fall months, and continue to keep tabs on all of the offseason moves. I will always cheer them on, hoping for that miracle season when they finally turn it all around.
My distaste for baseball goes back a long way. It begins years before players were making $30 million a year, and even before the New York Yankees were relevant again. It can be traced back to one very forgettable October night.
In fact, it can be found on an exact date: October 14, 1992.
I'm a Pittsburgh boy; I was born and raised just outside of the Steel City until I was 12 years old. In the early '90s the Steelers were just beginning their new start under the Bill Cowher regime, and the Penguins were an upstart team just having won the Stanley Cup. My passion was baseball, though, and I loved my Pirates.
The '90 season saw the Pirates fall to the Cincinnati Reds in six games in the National League Championship Series. I was 11 years old; not the end of the world. The '91 campaign saw the Pirates reach the NLCS again, but they lost in seven games to the Atlanta Braves this time around.
This one, being a year older, hurt a little more. However it wasn't until that one ill-fated Fall night in October that my baseball world was crushed, and it still hasn't recuperated after all the elapsed time.
The Pirates began the '92 NLCS series by falling behind the Atlanta Braves three games to one. The Pirates would valiantly fight their way back into it, though, and tied the series up at three games apiece. This would set up a final huge Game 7 in Atlanta.
In Game 7, the Pirates took an early lead and held it the entire game until the final at bat by a pinch hitter named Francisco Cabrera.
On a 1-2 pitch from a side-armer named Stan Belinda, and with the bases loaded, Cabrera hit a line drive single into short left field. David Justice was the first to score from third base. Behind him Sid Bream, a former Pirate, lumbered toward third from second base.
I can't imagine anybody watching the game that night thought he could beat the throw to home, but he did, sliding feet first past an out-stretched Mike "Spanky" LaValliere for the game-winning run.
It had happened again, a third straight year, in fact. The Pirates had lost, and were not going to the World Series. As the Braves players all swarmed around Sid Bream in joy, I stood in the middle of my parents’ living room with them standing to either side of me.
They were both as shocked and at a loss for words as I was. I was able to contain myself and fight back the tears long enough to make it to the bathroom. My mom would give me a couple minutes, but eventually came in. "They will get back there again," she tried to console as I brushed my teeth, preparing for bed.
Well, it's been almost 20 years and they have yet to return.
I have watched the Penguins lose to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. I have watched the Steelers fall to both the Dallas Cowboys, and most recently the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. None of those games have impacted me as much as Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series, though. Sid Bream’s slide into home plate is still branded into my memory after all these years, and always will be.
To this day I have no idea why this game impacted me so much. The Pirates had dropped the ball the two previous years as well. If somebody asked me to explain it, I couldn't. Maybe it was because I knew that Barry Bonds was leaving, or that the window of opportunity had passed after three consecutive tries. I really don’t have an answer.
Some may call me soft for writing an article like this, or even a fair weather fan because I'm not the baseball guru I used to be. I can accept that, but in writing this I was just looking to see what games have crushed others. All sports fans have a similar story. I'd like to hear it, and I'm sure others would too. So let us know...what game broke your heart?