Saturday, May 13, 2006

Please save us Mr. Cuban!!

I am sure there is no way Mark Cuban would ever find his way to this blog, but I am going to make my plea anyway, if only to make myself feel better. As I watch the Pittsburgh Pirates' 14th straight losing season unfold, I feel like a rubber-necker watching another car wreck on the Parkway East. It is during this time of year, May - when the Pirates are officially out of contention, that my thoughts return to the annual dream of Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh area native, riding in on a white horse (or Humvee, if he so chooses) and purchasing the team from the clutches of evil Kevin McClatchy and the non-existent Nutting family. Clearly, they do not have the financial or marketing clout to save this team from the baseball abyss in which it currently resides.

There is ZERO doubt in my mind that Mr. Cuban has both the money and passion to build a winning franchise again in the great city of Pittsburgh. He is a smart enough businessman to realize that all of the variables are place for a very successful situation. The team already has one of the 2-3 best ballparks in all of baseball, they compete in the less rugged National League, and they have a solid farm system from which to start. There is one other factor though that I think is the most important. There is a great, loyal fan base just waiting for a winner.

Now, it goes without saying that Pittsburgh is a football town. I mean, the dungeon that was Three Rivers Stadium, God rest its soul, was sold out even during the terrible end of the Noll era, when Walter Abercrombie and Mark Malone passed as stars (ahhhhhhhh....bad flashbacks...think Super Bowl XL, Hines Ward, Big Ben...that's better...sorry for the tangent). But, I firmly believe that Pirates fans are just so beaten down by what amounts to 25 years of horrid baseball, that they are just tired and waiting for a savior. When you think about the fact that, save the nice six year run during the Bonds/Leyland/LaValliere era of 1988-1993, these fans have been subject to horrible baseball for a VERY long time. I mean, do the names Jason Thompson, Sammy Khalifa, Mike Kingery, Jacob Brumfield, and John Wehner mean anything to you? Didn't think so.

All we want is hope. Seriously. I have no doubt that, if Cuban bought the team, interest in the Pirates would shoot through the roof, even before the winning started. And, with Cuban, the winning would start pretty quickly. He is not afraid to lose some money for a few years to win back the fans and win games. Everyone forgets what a joke the Mavericks were prior to his ownership. They were every bit as pathetic as the Clippers were until recently. Now, they are perennially one of the top 3-4 teams in the league and sell out every game. I can speak from experience, having attended a Mavs/Pacers game over Christmas, their game experience is second to none. The arena is amazing, the fans are so engaged, and the atmosphere is electric.

Let's face it, Pittsburgh sports fans are a) savvy, b) impatient, and most importantly, c) not rich enough to throw cash away. For the past 14 years, being a diehard Pirates fan means throwing money away. I know from personal experience as, prior to moving to Boston in 2001, my buddies and I spent usually 2 nights during each homestand trekking to Three Rivers Stadium with roughly 7,000-10,000 other poor diehards just out to support our team. Even since my move, while watching the Red Sox go through a renaissance, my allegiance has never waived (though I will admit to following the Sox also, based on a childhood fascination with Clemens, Greenwell, Big Mo, and the fact that living here requires you know all things Sox). The first thing I do every morning is check out the prior night Buccos score/recap, which usually prompts a day long email discussion with those same Pittsburgh buddies about the good, bad, and ugly of another lost season. Heck, I have even convinced my ever-understanding wife to let me spend an extra $10 a month on our DirecTV package at our new house, just so I can get the regional sports package with FSN Pittsburgh to watch the games!! (NOTE: the reason I am getting DirecTV in the first place though is to get the NFL Sunday Ticket to follow the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers).

I refuse to believe that my buddies and I are the only fans like this out there. When I listen to my father, who never really waxes nostalgic about sports, talk about going to Forbes field to see the great Roberto Clemente, Elroy Face, Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat, listening to the legendary voice of Bob Prince, and following the great 70's teams with "Pops" Stargell and Kent Tekulve, there is clearly a strong fanbase out there waiting for a return to those days. Heck I can even remember watching the Leyland teams with my grandma on hot summer nights, because they had cable and we didn't, and she always loved watching the games. And, I am convince that if Mark Cuban bought the team, fans would return in droves, bringing that dampened spirit back with them. Pittsburgh has the potential to be a two-sport town, all we need is a reason to believe.


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