Children are a finicky lot of characters to say the least. Their favorite foods change week to week, day to day and most times minute to minute, their favorite televisions ebb and flow along with the latest trends and they thrive off of instant gratification, as well as information at their fingertips. As a child I was not much different, except for the information at my fingertips; it was the mid-80’s after all. I ate pretty much nothing, but peanut butter sandwiches and LIFE cereal, my obsessions went back and forth between Transformers, G.I. Joe and Thundercats and all I wanted was Pepsi from a glass bottle or a Klondike bar as a reward for not fighting with my older sister that day or behaving at the grocery store.
As it is with most almost 6 year olds I wasn’t a very good sport, as in I didn’t want to lose any game that I played; which meant a lot less rewards for not fighting with my sister. I also wanted whatever team I was cheering for to win as well. A few months before the 1985 Major League Baseball season, my childhood heart took a pretty big hit when hometown hero, Dan Marino, was unable to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Pittsburgh; in the figurative sense of course. I surely didn’t want something like this to happen again when starting to cheer for a baseball team. How would I make such a tough decision? What baseball team would I put my heart behind?
Other kids my age might have had a simpler way of deciding. Maybe they would start to get behind the team represented on their T-Ball, Minor or Little League uniform. This was impossible for me as my T-Ball League chose to dawn the names of National Football League teams on their uniforms. My sister and I played for the Raiders, so that obviously wasn’t going to help me at all. In a previous article I wrote about my Grandma Caramellino’s love of the Pittsburgh Pirates and my Pap Caramellino’s love of baseball. Why not give the hometown team an opportunity; especially since their was still some luster left from the 1979 We Are Family World Series Champion Pirates. I would soon feel a 6 year old sense of regret and defeat, but not before the 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates had their hooks firmly entrenched in my young heart.
My Dad’s name is William, but everyone has always called him Bill. That year the Pirates had two Bills on their roster; the aging veteran, superstar Bill Madlock, and a journeyman utility player named Bill Almon. Did I mention that a child’s mind is also illogical and it makes connections using the silliest or simplistic reasons? Well it is and it does. These automatically became my two favorite players. Kent Tekulve was quickly added as a third due to the fact that he wore glasses that looked like my Dad’s and I thought the Submarine Pitch looked super cool. I even tried to start throwing like him. A fourth member joined the crew after I saw the name R.J. Reynolds on a pack of my Grandma Toth’s Winston cigarettes. I thought he and the Pirates part time Left Fielder were one in the same for longer than I care to admit.
As the 1985 season started I had such hope for my “new” favorite baseball team. I hadn’t looked at their record from the previous year; it was 75-87 by the way. It really wouldn’t have done me much good to look at because I am not sure if I would have known what it meant anyway. That hope was quickly squashed as the Chuck Tanner led Pittsburgh Pirates dropped the first two games of the year to the Cubs and seven of their first ten games. The Pirates did not have a winning record at any point during the entire season and finished the year 43.5 games behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals, with a record of 57-104. To tell you truth I didn’t care. Madlock hit 10 Home Runs, Almon hit 6, Reynolds batter .308 in a very small sample size and I got an autographed Kent Tekulve card. Also a player named Bob Walk started 9 games that year and had a mustache like my Dad’s. I was vey impressionable and easily excited. What can I say, I was 6 by the end of the season.
This team, no matter how bad, is stuck in my psyche forever. It was the first team I invested myself in, that I cheered for and that I have regular memories about listening to, watching on TV and attending my first game to see at Three Rivers Stadium to see play. This terrible team, record wise, holds a special place in my heart and they always will.