Jumbo shrimp. Deafening silence. Pirate fan.
"Pirate" and "fan," a simple utterance that once could be stated with such pride, now seems to be two words at complete odds with one another. But, yes, I am a Pirate fan.
It is not really a choice, more like something that just happened and not likely to change. You see, I am 37 years old. I have memories of better times. I remember the winning; I also remember the losing.
But what I recall most vividly are the connections I made with "our" players. I recall wiffle ball games in the backyard; I would emulate the windup of a Willie Stargell at bat, while a buddy would do his best impersonation of Jason Thompson. No matter the record, the Pirates were our team.
Today, "our team" no longer exists. The club in Pittsburgh still calls itself the Pirates, but that's where the similarity ends. Who are the Pirates? Ask the 12-year-old holding his Freddie Sanchez Pirate jersey. We were told these players were cornerstones. I guess we should have asked for what team.
I have seen a lot in my days of watching the Bucs. The cocaine trials of the early '80s, the curious signings of Steve Kemp and Amos Otis, the trade of my beloved Tony Pena. No matter the event, a Pirate fan I remained.
But the tribulation of the last year seems different. It seems to hit harder, certainly far harder than the contingent of minor leaguers that currently fill out the Pirates lineup.
Like a baseball version of the box office hit "From Justin to Kelly," the "Littlefield to Huntington" trauma we have and continue to endure is not likely to end the long suffering of Pirate fans.
Now, don't get me wrong: I am certainly no apologist for the Pirate players that have contributed to the team's record futility. I know we had to make trades and yes, Neal, I know you did not just break up the "'27 Yankees."
Fact is, though, neither are the prospects we gained in return. I have never seen so many alleged five-tool prospects who can't hit a home run.
The next generation, with no player allegiance and no reason to care will certainly have a choice, something I no longer have. I am a Pirate fan.
For now you can find me and other Pirate fans right here in Blair County and other surrounding areas.
In 20 years? You may have to travel to the Smithsonian where other curiosities from bygone eras are put on display. Until then, you will find me wearing my circa 1970s Pirate box hat, listening to Sister Sledge while trying yet again to stomach another glass of the Cleveland Indian kool-aid.
Hopefully, the Huntington version of the recipe has a good anesthetic.
Make criticism constructive
While the recent Sports Mailbag letter concerning the Mansion Park Basketball League had some constructive criticism, it was lacking in suggestions for improvement.
The suggestion of having non-players act as board of directors members sounds great, but I am sure it would be difficult to get people who don't play or coach to volunteer time to a league in which they have no stake.
Allow me to offer a few suggestions for improvement ...
1. Volunteer your time. The Central Blair Recreation Commission needs volunteers to assist in running leagues. Not only can you make the league a better experience for all, you can also help to raise money to pay for the insurance needed to get the Mansion League sanctioned.
2. Quit complaining about the officials! I know several experienced officials who will have nothing to do with officiating at Mansion because of the constant whining of the players. It's a rec league, guys, not the NBA finals.
3. If you want to improve the officiating, strap on a whistle. Attend the clinics and the camps and the meetings so you can become the unbiased, competent referee everyone wants. Then use that knowledge to teach other officials how to do the same. I think then you would be amazed to find that the officials working at Mansion are doing a better job than you could imagine.
Three suggestions. Try them out and see how much of a difference you can make.
Defending Kelley Federation
Does the George B. Kelley Federation need to defend itself? Are there other problems on the field? Just maybe ...
1. Parents should take part of the blame.
2. There's a lack of respect from players, parents, coaches and fans toward other people.
3. Too much is put on winning at all cost, which begins all the way back to Little League.
4. Umpires aren't perfect, but they are in charge of the game.
5. There are too many all-stars.
6. League officials don't have control of what is being said on e-mail. The people who e-mail should at least have a correct name and address.
Maybe the next time you see Tom Stout, thank him for all that he does for baseball in Altoona.