One autumn evening in 1992, Sid Bream of the Atlanta Braves – a former Pittsburgh Pirate – slid across home plate and scored the winning run in game seven of the National League Championship Series that took his team past the Pittsburgh Pirates into the World Series. While Braves fans erupted in cheers, Pirates fans stood in stunned silence only able to think, “Maybe next year.”
Fast Forward 20 years, add a new stadium, new players, and a new generation, and the coaches, team, and fans will have the same look of disappointment on their faces following the worst collapse in MLB history by a first-place team. The Pirates once again failed to finish above .500.
Two decades removed from their last winning season, one may doubt the ability of the small-market Pirates to bounce back and finally be able to overcome the stench of losing that they has haunted them for the last generation.
However, the following two seasons proved to be more than fans could have asked for as the Pirates not only finished with a winning record, but they made the playoffs and hosted the National League Wild Card game two years in a row. Pittsburgh’s small-market baseball team beat the Reds, another smaller market team, in 2013, eventually falling to big-market St. Louis in the NLCS. This year, big-market San Francisco won the wild card in front of a stunned sellout PNC crowd.
Now, the team that the Pirates fell to in the playoffs will be fighting for a World Series win in game seven against the Kansas City Royals. Every single Pirates fan should be decked out in blue, or at the very least rooting their hearts out for Kansas City to pull this one off.
Without a salary cap in Major League Baseball, teams like the Yankess and Giants have been able to grab hold of championship after championship. The last small-market team to make it to the big show was the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. They would fall to, no surprise, big market Philadelphia Phillies.
In the last few seasons, however, Major League Baseball has seen teams such as the Royals and Pirates on the rise because they have found ways to win despite not having a massive payroll. Teams are playing smarter, with more informed bullpen decisions, dramatic defensive shifts, and modern stats like WAR leading lineup changes that equal or better a poorly managed team with high-priced, under-performing stars.
Tonight, baseball fans from around the world have a chance to witness the small market underdog pulling off a World Series win against a team who has been to the World Series every other year in the current decade, literally.
Every Pirates fan should be proud of their fellow small-market team, the Kansas City Royals. They should be excited about how far they have come, and they should be looking forward to the potential beginning of a new era in baseball: An era where the have-nots are able to throw a stone at the Goliath’s of baseball. Symbolically, it only makes sense: The Royals will take on the Giants tonight, hoping to play the part small-market Pittsburgh fans yearn to see their Pirates play in the World Series hopefully very soon.