Reflecting on the Warm Fuzzy Moments Brought to You by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017
One of the things that I love most about the game of baseball is that within every season each MLB team experiences a few really heart-warming, feel-good stories. Those stories that cause a little catch in the back of the throat. Stories that make us proclaim, “I got a little dust in my eye.” Stories that we hold on to through those long baseball-less winter nights.
The Pittsburgh Pirates had their fair share of touching moments in 2017 that range from triumphant to ground-breaking to just plain fun. So, without further ado:
Jameson Taillon‘s Cancer Journey
2017 was supposed to be his year. His sophomore season, but not a typical sophomore season – his wouldn’t include that dreaded “slump.” Fate owed him that. After two “false starts” to his major league career, the first cut short by Tommy John surgery, the second a sports hernia, it was his time to shine. But then, in early May, came reports that Taillon was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Not a person on this planet would have blamed him for standing in the middle of PNC Park screaming “Why Me!”
But that’s just not Jamo.
Instead, he had his left testicle removed, then went to work. And in five weeks, because the cancer hadn’t spread and there was therefore no need for further treatment, he made his second first start of the season. It happened to be against the Colorado Rockies, whose pitcher Chad Bettis also had a testicular cancer diagnosis, but with a more complicated diagnosis, which included chemotherapy.
Taillon’s comeback was both remarkable and not. Anyone following his career has seen that grit and determination before. It was inspiring and a true testament to the power of having a positive attitude (and really good healthcare professionals – including a brother – at your disposal).
A Truly Global Team
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a reputation as a team not afraid to break new ground when it comes to their roster. In 1971, the Bucs fielded the first “all-minority starting nine,” according to MLB in front of a sparse home crowd of 11,278 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
In 2015, the Pirates acquired Jung Ho Kang from the Korean Baseball Organization. Kang went on to become the first KBO position player to play in the majors.
In 2017, the Pittsburgh Pirates featured two international “firsts.” In April, right-handed reliever Dovydas Neverauskas made his MLB debut, becoming the first Lithuanian-born and raised to play baseball on the major league level. Then, just days later, Gift Ngoepe became the first player from the continent of Africa to play in a major league baseball game. “This game brings so much cool stuff to us. You’re not going to script it out that way,” Bucs Manager Clint Hurdle told MLB’s Adam Berry at the time.
As a small-market team, the Pittsburgh Pirates are known for unconventional approaches to finding under-the-radar talent in unconventional places. Lets hope this tradition continues. It’s always heartwarming to watch a young man run out onto an MLB field the first time, but to see him do it and know the history he’s making in the process takes it to a completely different level.
“I’m Not Going to Let You Go”
One of the most touching moments in all of major league baseball in 2017 came not from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but from an umpire assigned to work the Pirates/Tampa Bay Rays series in late June. John Tumpane was out in downtown Pittsburgh getting some exercise and lunch. He spotted a woman jump the railing of the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Even tough she offered excuses for her actions, he knew that she was in trouble, he shared during a post-game press conference.
So, he did, as he said, what anyone would have. He grabbed hold of her, and with the help of a few passersby, kept her from jumping off the bridge. He ignored her requests to let her go, instead offering words of reassurance. After an ambulance arrived and rescue workers were able to get the woman to safety, Tumpane stayed with the distraught woman. She told him he’d forget all about her once she was gone, but he resisted, telling her, “No, I’ll never forget you.”
After hearing the story, brilliantly retold by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Stephen Nesbitt and photographed by Steph Chambers (both of whom happened upon the scene as it unfolded) it was hard to get angry at any call Tumpane made that night (quite the feat for an MLB umpire). And really, it was hard to not see the sun shine a little bit brighter.
2018 Promises More to Come
These moments were but a few of dozens we get from the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB every season. And I didn’t even talk about the Bucco Baby Boom (David Freese, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen were all awaiting fatherhood as the 2017 season drew to a close) or John Jaso‘s retirement plans. In fact, if you take the time to look, these are the kinds of stories that baseball gives us regularly. It’s just another reason it’s the greatest game played.