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October 11, 2013

Another National Treasure Closes

Joe Charlebois

Many of our nation’s parks are now closed, but this has nothing to do with the shutdown. It has nothing to do with the “Open Our National Parks and Museums Act” bill that was passed by the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate on Oct. 2 only to be ignored by the Senate's majority leadership.


Rather, I refer to the closures of Major League Baseball’s “Pantheons,” such as Tropicana, Progressive and Turner Fields, Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark and now sadly PNC Park which have all closed in the last week or so.


As the Major League Baseball playoffs continue, fewer and fewer parks will host more and more meaningful games. The handful of parks that do remain open are in Detroit, Oakland, Boston, Los Angeles and St. Louis. But the national story of the year, or maybe the last 20 years has been the re-emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their Rip Van Winkle-like absence from a winning season had made them the lovable underdogs that few could root against.


If all good things come to an end, this is not how the scriptwriters would have penned it. They would have had Pirate’s All-Star closer Jason Grilli striking out “Big Papi” David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 7th game of the World Series at Fenway Park. Instead, the dream came to an end. Wednesday evening saw the Pirates lose the fifth and deciding game in the best-of-five series to the rival St. Louis Cardinals.


As most of America knows – at least those who follow baseball – the Pittsburgh Pirates are the most improbable story in years. Not only did the Pirates thrown off the yoke of 20 losing seasons by finishing above “.500,” they finished a close second to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League's Central Division.


They did this despite playing in arguably the toughest division in the Majors. The Central Division alone sent three of its teams to this year's National League playoffs. Each team entered the post-season with at least 90 wins. The Cardinals finished with a Major League best record 97 wins. The Pirates finished second to the “Red Birds” with the fifth best record in all of baseball, ending their season with 94 wins and the Cincinnati Reds finished third, seven games behind the Cardinals with 90 victories.


Heading into the playoffs, The Pirates finished the regular season with a three game sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati. This meant that the one-game Wild Card playoff game would have the Pirates hosting the Reds at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Reaction throughout the country indicated that the entire nation – outside of Cincinnati – wanted to see this year's Cinderella send their ugly stepsister home. The winner-take-all one game playoff would set up the victor in a best-of-five Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.


As game time approached, it didn't take long for Manager Clint Hurdle and his Pirates players to realize what a city's 20 plus years of pent-up hopes and dreams sounded, looked and felt like. Skipper Hurdle and his crew may have docked their ship along the cold Allegheny River, but in reality they were buoyed by a “Black Sea” of boisterous, energetic and desperate fans.


The fans were rewarded with not only a victory over the Reds but were treated to an incredible Divisional Series against the Cardinals. The series and season may have ended on a cool night down river in St. Louis, and PNC Park may be closed until next year, but the hopes and dreams of a well-built Pirates team bode well for future years when the ballpark opens up again next April.


Raise the Jolly Roger!


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