Before the first pitch thrown in Wednesday night's National League playoff game between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, I envision my friends Joe and Cathie Hajdu running through a welter of possible scenarios. They are Pirates fans of the porcelain variety, having remained steadfast for half a century without letting defeat or even moments of joy ruin their quiet equanimity. They have felt the spectrum of hope, disaster, promise and miracle over the years without spasms of bitterness or heady bouts of arrogance. They have that quality that's as elusive to religion as it is in sports: faith.
Faith, as St. Paul tells us, is "evidence of things not seen." Hardly anyone saw that Clint Hurdle would transform the small-market, underfinanced Pirates into a winner. Nobody except perhaps his coaches and his mom knew Josh Harrison would come out of nowhere to lead the league in hitting or that the graceful whip of a man, Andrew McCutcheon would become a huge star. But Joe and Cathie had faith that it could happen through the years when the team couldn't afford to keep top talent and fought to achieve a .500 record.
Lots of fuzzy mythology and cosmic meaning has been attributed to baseball, but what stands out to me are people who love their home teams whatever happens. I lived in New York for many years and went apoplectic every time a newcomer to the city abandoned the team they grew up with to root for the ... well, you know, it begins with a "Y." It says something about character. It's faith, like Joseph keeping his father, Jacob, and even his conniving brothers in his heart while making the big time in Egypt.
Joe and Cathie haven't gritted their teeth and stayed the course. They've enjoyed it all and so far as I know have never wasted time like it do resenting the "Ys" (clue: born 50 miles from Boston). They just love their Pirates, can recall players from 30 years ago whose feats they admired, and while they know full well that the Cardinals, among others, perennially stand in their way, don't feel it necessary to ridicule them.
I'd witnessed this faith many decades ago when, as fellow travelers in graduate school, they listened to the most lovable "homer" announcer I ever heard, the late Bob Prince, broadcast the Pirates games on the radio. This summer they invited me to join them at the spectacular PNC park to see their heroes my Red Sox. My side supinely obliged their playoff ambitions by losing 4-0 to them. The Hajdus, including son Nate, a devoted fan in his own right, took it as a gift (which it surely was in terms of Boston's performance) rather than a boorish triumph. The whole crowd seemed to, in fact.
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The Pirates landing a playoff spot is especially welcome this year when Cathie has endured health problems that have occupied the whole family. But crisis hasn't diminished the faith whose saints include Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. One of the first things Cathie wanted to know after returning from a hospital stay was whether there was Pirates game on that day. The faith they share doesn't assume the Pirates will win. It assumes that something good will come out of the game itself.
Go Pirates just the same.