My Family and Friends

Frank Palmieri has a guest column for Fire Brand of the American League today. If you would like to submit a guest column, simply e-mail me (link on the right) and I’ll throw it up!
A lot of people ask me why I like the Red Sox and the Pirates. It seems like such a great contrast, but in reality – at least my reality – both teams are very similar. No, not the players, or the money the teams spend, or how many times they?ve been to the playoffs, but the heartbreak. Of course the only difference is that the Pirates broke my heart in 1992, and Boston has been breaking my heart for the past 6 years.
In 1992 I was 6 years old and for the first time I was watching the Pirates, understanding what was going on, and loving every minute of it. I still remember the names, Drebeck, Van Slyke, Bell, Bonilla, Merced, and yes, even Barry. The first season I ever really watched we made a trip to the ALCS. At that point not only was my heart broken but a long standing hatred for one of the players mentioned earlier began. I watched an old man with bum knees touch home plate and ruin my chances of seeing the World Series. What followed is well documented and I don?t think that there is any need to mention the exits, and the downfall.
The last thing I will say is that in 1992 we had a .593 winning percentage and won 96 games. We were arguably the best team in baseball at that time. In the 11, and now I can say 12, seasons that followed 1992 we did not reach .500 once. We?ve been running a revolving door fire sale for the last 12 seasons, and yet if we go on a run, I can still get excited. It pains me to watch these guys like Jack Wilson, and Jason Bay go out every night and give their all knowing that it is not going to matter, and that they will not become a superstar with the Pirates, or win many games. Jack Wilson, at the All Star Break, was the best SS in the National League yet he was not in the top 3 in voting. The players had to vote Jack Wilson in, and he had more votes than any other SS. Jason Bay gets no respect in his race for the Rookie Of the Year. Any time talk arises on ESPN Khalil Greene is said to be the front runner. It takes the players, like Tony Gwynn, to remind everyone that Jason Bay has better numbers, and should take the award. The Pirates are a low budget team that has no respect around the league, and are primarily considered a joke whenever mentioned.
Do I still love watching the Pirates even if they?re not winning? Sure, but it gets harder every season. Guys like Oliver Perez make some games easier than other. Sure he has ups and downs, but when he?s up he is almost a Cy Young pitcher. Maybe it?s just the flash of the strikeout, or maybe this is what we need. If Kip Wells can turn things around next year, and Daryle Ward can have a healthy season. If Craig Wilson can get his strikeout numbers down (he leads the NL). If Ty turns into something, If Mesa stays around and still throws hard. If my Aunt had an (expletive deleted) she?d be my Uncle. There are just too many ifs to have a good season.
The Red Sox however, are a very different story. Year after year, play after play, and breakdown after breakdown, it never fails to surprise me. Every year as a Red Sox fan it feels like 1992 all over again. The question isn?t if the Sox are going to the playoffs, it?s how far will they go. Every year is “The Year” and every time it feels real. I convince myself every year that this is the team, and that it?s going to happen. In 1992 I didn?t know any better so I believed. Now its different, because all I hear is that the Red Sox can?t do it. We don?t really have a chance. Then when things start clicking the media jumps on the bandwagon and cheers it until it would hurt the great Evil Empire.
My love for the Sox began during the 1998 season. I?d seen Pedro Martinez pitch for the Expos and I always loved watching him. When he became a Red Sox, naturally I?d watch games he pitched just as I did with the Expos. I saw two other guys who I was familiar with. Tim Wakefield, one of my favorite Pirates pitchers, and Steve Avery, who up until that point I hated. I began watching Timmy?s games as well, and then found other players who I really liked. Nomar and Bret Saberhagen quickly caught my eye and suddenly I was in for the long haul. After my first year watching baseball I expected to win every season, and now I could cheer for a team that had a chance to. The addition later of Manny Ramirez kind of put me over the top. My best friend at the time happened to be an Indians fan and we had many disputes over how good Manny actually was. I knew he was good, but being born and raised in Pittsburgh I was taught to hate everything about Cleveland.
The day he became a Red Sox the discussion between me and my friend turned into heated arguments. I was defending a team, and players that play in a city I?ve never been to. It was different. See your hometown team is yours by default. As I said, in my first column for the Steelers site here at MVN, your hometown team is your family, which would make the Red Sox my friends. You can chose your friends, and I think I made the right choice. See the thing people from New York don?t understand is that this heartbreak only makes it that much sweeter. Sure, it hurts more and more every year, but when the Sox finally put it together, it will allow Red Sox fans around the country to say something we haven?t been able to in far to long. My team. My Red Sox are the best team in baseball.
The Red Sox these days. They scare people. I hear Yankee fans, most notably Dan (our current Yankees writer), saying that they thought the Red Sox were going to catch them. At one point I even heard some concern from fans that they were going to drop out of the playoffs. The Red Sox are better in every facet of the game right now than the Yankee?s are, and they know that. The great Yankee offense isn?t the best in baseball. The great Yankee pitching staff is gone. The Yankees have gotten worse, while the Red Sox just continue getting better. The ‘Ifs’ for the Red Sox this year don?t exist in my mind. It?s been more like, how many games is it going to take to win the World Series?