EAST LIVERPOOL - The drought is over. After 20 years without a postseason appearance, The Pittsburgh Pirates clinched a National League wild card spot Monday night with a victory over the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals losing to St. Louis.
As the Pirates celebrated their first trip to the playoffs since 1992 in the visitor's clubhouse at Wrigley Field, so did countless excited fans all over the Tri-State area. Here in East Liverpool several longtime Pirates fans rejoiced as their beloved Pirates took the next step.
East Liverpool resident and Pirates season ticket holder, Bob Bosco, was nearly dizzy with excitement Monday night as the Pirates hung on for a victory with a nail biting play at home plate. "I was so wired last night. I don't think I went to bed until 3:30 in the morning," said Bosco.
East Liverpool residents Al Dawson (middle) and Bob Bosco (right) chat with Chuck Tanner, manager of the 1979 Pirates, at spring training in Bradenton Florida. Dawson lives in Bradenton four months out of the year and is president of Pirate’s Bradenton Boosters. Bosco has been attending spring training since 2002. Tanner passed away in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Bob Bosco)
For Bosco, who has been a fan for 50 years, that night's final play brought back the haunting memory of Pittsburgh's last playoff appearance, which ended when Atlanta's Sid Bream slid home for the game winning run in the 9th inning in the 1992 National League championship. Bosco says he got the chance to meet Bream some years later through a mutual friend. He says he let Bream know that, although he liked him as a player, that game winning play in 1992 was a dagger in the heart of Pittsburgh fans everywhere.
A fan since 1962, Bosco's love of the Pirates, like many fans, predates their latest 20 year playoff drought. While the past 20 years have not been pleasant for Pirates fans, many, such as Bob Duffy, can remember the golden years of Pirates baseball.
A 25-year-old Duffy was in the press section as Sports Editor for The Review during game seven of the 1960 World Series, when Bill Mazeroski's 9th inning home run hit defeated the Yankees.
"I know there's been a hundred thousand people who said they were there, but I was definitely there," said Duffy.
A Pittsburgh fan since 1948, Duffy's memories of Pirates teams past, including the '71 and '79 world series teams, have helped sustain him through the recent playoff drought.
East Liverpool native Al Dawson lives four months out of the year in the home of Pirates spring training camp, Bradenton, Fla. He is president of the Pirates' Bradenton Boosters and gets to meet with players and coaches each season.
He says that while he expected this year's team to break the .500 mark, he is somewhat surprised to see them make the playoffs. "Everyone is beside themselves," said Dawson of the booster's 200 members following the recent victory.
In his 50 years as a Pirates fan, Dawson, like all Pirates fans, has felt the sting of having high expectations dashed. In recent years he watched as the Bucs squandered late season divisional leads and eliminated themselves from playoff contention.
"It got disgusting sometimes, but we could see where they were coming back through the draft and free agency," said Dawson.
All three longtime Pirates fans say the last two difficult seasons have been crucial in shaping the character of the current team and helping them mature.
"Sometimes you've got to learn how to win before you can take the next step," said Bosco.
The lifelong fans also agreed improved pitching has made a difference this year. "One thing they definitely have is pitching," said Dawson. Resigning pitcher Jason Grilli and trading for pitcher Mark Melancon proved to be wise moves for Bucs who now boast one of the best bullpens in Major League Baseball. The three men say they hope that the stellar pitching holds up into the preseason.
With the Bucs looking like they will finish in second or third place, the road ahead will not be easy. "They'll be underdogs, but they've been underdogs all year so all we can do is root them on as far as they can go," said Dawson.
No matter what happens to the Pirates this October, Bosco, Dawson and Duffy agree that all signs indicate their favorite team will continue to improve for the next several years.