Think back to a time in your life when you were just young enough to still not have a care in the world, but had enough money burning a hole in your pocket that you could spend it on some unnecessary things. For me the year was 2005 and for my friends and I that gratuitous expense was the package of Pittsburgh Pirates tickets that would allow you to get every bobblehead that season, along with a couple other games. We as a group had been going to games here and there over the past couple of years, sometimes there were more than just the usual 4 and other times we couldn’t all make it. However, it became our nice little getaway for the afternoon and/or evening and we were going to enjoy ourselves. All life-long/diehard Pirates fans, with our Cleveland Indians buddy thrown in from time to time, we weren’t in it just for the give-away or getaway; we were also in it for the pre-game tailgates, as well as some baseball talk along the way.
It began as just a couple hours before the game hanging out and turned into half days at work, getting into the lot as soon as possible and having as much time to drink and eat as we wanted to type of affairs. Of course there was always baseball at the end of these parties and that was definitely not lost on us as we walked into PNC Park ready to cheer on our Buccos. The 2005 Pittsburgh Pirates were like many of their recent predecessors and the teams that would follow in that they were often a very eclectic mix; mostly made up of very young/unproven players, veteran castoffs and a couple of potential budding superstars. The previous year the Pirates finished with a record of 72-89, better than only the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, so expectations were not very high. However a young man, acquired in the trade of Brian Giles to the San Diego Padres a couple of years earlier had burst into the scene with 26 Home Runs. That young man was the Canadian Outfielder and 2004 Rookie of the Year winner, Jason Bay. Add in future batting champ Freddy Sanchez, 2004 All-Star Jack Wilson and top prospect, Zack Duke on the horizon, we at least had something to root for coming into 2005.
The season did not get off to a good start as the Pirates were swept in a short two game opening series by the Brewers and then lost an quick west coast heartbreaker to the Padres in 12 innings. It wasn’t until April 15th that my friends and I attended our first game of the year on Jason Bay Bobblehead Night. It had been a warm day and we were all young and tough guys, so we all left our sweatshirts in the car. The day soon turned to night and we were all ordering coffees and hot chocolates to stay warm. One of friend even signed up for a credit card to get the free Pirates blanket. On the field the an unlikely hero, Bobby Hill, who was having a hot start to the season, doubled in two to give the Pirates the lead for good over the Cubbies late in the game. I heard this play over the radio of my car as I drove home because it was way too cold to stay for the entire game.
It would be over a little of a month before I would attend another Pirates with my friends, this time on Oliver Perez Bobblehead Night. Yes the same Oliver Perez that took the mound for the New York Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS versus the St. Louis Cardinals. Since it was a Saturday Night game, that left plenty of time for tailgating, mainly drinking, which is probably why I don’t remember as much from this 8 to 3 victory over the Colorado Rockies. As I try to recall that night the main events that stick out in my mind were that Perez actually pitched pretty well in the game, earning a win on his night and that Jason Bay went 0-4, striking out twice. This was extremely disappointing as he had been on a tear leading up to this game and went on another one immediately after, so we basically got to see one of his only bad games during that time.
On June 8th of that season the Pirates did something a little different and had their first ever “dual” bobbleheads, which ended up becoming one of my favorite Pirates Collectibles for a very long time; the Steve Blass/Manny Sanguillen Bobblehead may be the best idea the marketing department has ever come up with, prior to the Steve Blass Bobblehead this past season. This particular game was on a Wednesday, but I had the next two days off so it was like a Friday for me. Only one of my friends joined me that day for the “normal” pregame. By the time the other two guys arrived we were kind of out of control. This was fairly routine for us at the time, so it was extremely lucky that we always stopped drinking once we got into the game; mostly because we didn’t want to pay the ballpark prices. This day resulted in another win for the Pirates, 6-1 over the Baltimore Orioles and almost ended with a Rob Mackowiak cycle.
The next two games that I went to kind of run together in my mind. This should not and does not make any sense as I went to the one on Tuesday June 21st with my Mom, my Dad and my Grandma for my Birthday and the other was a game with my friends on Saturday July 9th. Also there was a giveaway on the July 9th, a Pittsburgh Crawford’s hat, which I originally remember as a Homestead Grays hat. The Homestead Gray’s hat is the one that my Dad and my one buddy both wore for what seemed like the next 10 years. This is probably why I remember that one more clearly, even though neither one of there are the best versions of either ball cap and could possibly be why these games run together. Nothing about these games was the same, other than the score. The Pirates beat the Nationals 11-4 on the 22nd and won a game over the Mets on the 9th by the same score.
I only remember going to one more game that year, but based on my ticket stubs (I have kept all of them since at least 1997) I went to two more games. In between July 9th and Tuesday August 23rd I went to see the Pirates win two games on Sunday July 24th (3-0 versus the Rockies) and Saturday August 6th (9-4 versus the LA Dodgers). On the 23rd of August the Pirates shut out the Cardinals 10-0 as Nate McLouth homered and Zack Duke only went 2 innings, which was the main reason I went to the game. At that point in his rookie year Duke was 6-0 and as always I have been a big fan of prospects, so this was a little disappointing, but it was nice to see another Pirates win.
As the season came to an end Lloyd McClendon lost Managerial Position, the team ended the year 67-95 good for last in the NL Central and my friends and I already made plans to sign up for the same package the following year. Some positives came out of this season, including 32 Home Runs for Jason Bay, an 8-2 record with an 1.82 ERA for Zack Duke and a break out season for Freddy Sanchez. Add in a 9-0 record for me in the games I attended that year; it was a running joke that I should have gone to all the home games that season and it was a great summer for Pirates baseball.