Pittsburgh Pirates Back Deck Report: The Season Begins


Apr 3, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Jayden Owens, fom Hamilton, Ohio, waits during a rain delay before a baseball game with the St. Loius Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Those who have read my earlier piece, Goodnight Jolly Roger, know that my preferred means to catch a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game is via terrestrial radio while relaxing on the wooden deck behind my Greenfield home. Don’t forget the couple of IPA’s.

My nirvana.

However, as a husband with a full-time job, and a father who attempts to parent a rambunctious two-year-old, I’ll only catch a handful of ball games — let alone 162 ball games — on the back deck. So, I must be creative to follow the Pirates season live. Handheld radios are a godsend. My L.L. Bean shortwave radio — with the shiny extending antenna — is with me on-the-go during game time: the Monroeville Mall (where my boy Uri rides the choo-choo), my wife Kait’s parents’ suburban home for a spaghetti dinner, Frick Park (where Uri rides the slides), Rialto Pizza, Schenley Plaza (where Uri rides the merry-go-round), Giant Eagle, an early evening walk through Calvary Cemetery, etc. I have a Durabrand radio — complete with cassette deck — on my work desk, but precious little time to listen to get-away-day broadcasts. Sometimes I’ll catch a few innings on the big pull-down screen at Hough’s Pub down the street. Or I’ll go to PNC Park, and stomach the stupid batter walk-up music.

This year, I have one other way to take-in a game.

I’m ashamed to admit that I recently buckled and signed a two-year contract with Comcast for their “digital starter” cable package. I only dove into the dubious world of cable to get ROOT Sports — more specifically, Pirates games. I’d almost feel more conscionable donating my money to fund the punch bowl at the cult leader’s neighborhood meet-n-greet than writing checks to Comcast.

I can now watch Better Call Saul, Hannibal, a whole bunch of crap, and, most importantly, Andrew McCutchen rounding second en route to a stand-up triple.

Damn you, Comcast, and you’re monopoly. Damn you MLB TV for blacking-out local games. And damn you giant maple tree in the backyard that blocks the southern sky, thus not allowing Dish Network or Direct TV to receive signals.

This column, Back Deck Report, is the firsthand account of  the unnecessary knee-jerk reactions, cockeyed insights, childish rants, unwarranted celebrations, and subtle pleasures of one working-class schlub’s (perhaps vain) attempt to follow his favorite baseball team throughout the season, while striving to maintaining working relationships with all acquaintances — personal, professional, and wife — and without unwittingly splitting the seams of the cosmos.

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That said, wasn’t that opening series versus the Cincinnati Reds shitty?

I missed most of the first seven innings of the first game. Of all nights, Uri’s speech therapist had scheduled a late afternoon in-home session on Opening Day. Has she no consideration? In what I imagined was a clever means to follow the ball game but not disrupt the lessons, I muted the game on television, much to Kait’s dismay (and the therapist’s, I’m sure).

The poor therapist is instructing Mom and Dad how to introduce their toddler to two-word phrases, but Dad’s eyes are ping-ponging between the word charts, and Johnny Cueto‘s silent dominance.

The Opening Day game was deflating, of course.  Cueto baffled the Pirates, of course. The Pirates lost, of course. Seven innings from Cueto, with ten strikeouts and no runs, on just four hits and one walk. Can you think of any outing, besides the 2013 wild card game, in which Cueto didn’t own the Bucs? I can’t. And isn’t Cueto’s corkscrew delivery endlessly annoying? The good news is that Francisco Liriano was mostly effective, too. Two earned runs in seven innings. The balk hurt. (A friggin’ balk!). And the dinger surrendered to Jay Bruce almost made a Red’s win seem inevitable.

The eighth inning brought the first truly exciting moment of the 2015 season. When McCutchen’s shot cleared the wall in right-center, tying the game at 2, I slapped my hands loudly and whooped like Ed McMahon was knocking on my door. Uri jumped back in bewildered surprise, but I still coaxed a meek high-five from him.

Since the Easter bunny brought Uri the movie Babe one day earlier,  I punctuated the chaotic scene with a stoic “That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”

Kait immediately asked, “Did you actually say ‘That’ll do pig. That’ll do?’ ”

I did.

But it wasn’t so elementary for Tony Watson in the eight. In fact, it was the opposite of elementary. “It’s extremely complex my dear Watson.” After surrendering singles from Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto , Todd Frazier uncorked one. Aroldis Chapman made the ninth inning a formality.

Don’t lower the Jolly Roger on Opening Day.

I took the family to Rialto Pizza Wednesday evening, planning to catch the first few innings of the ball game on the monstrous HD TV in the dining area. But guess what…RAIN DELAY. Rather than wait the two-and-a-half hours until the game finally started, we polished-off the crust — a rare feat — and headed home before management could kick for lingering.

It occurred to me on the ride home from Rialto that perhaps the Pirates lost the day before because I had forgotten to hang my over-sized polyester Jolly Roger from the front porch. Since the rain delay crept on and on, Uri and me found time to dangle the ol’ skull and crossbones of certain death exactly where they belong, directly outside our neighbor’s front window.

Arrr! We’ll be boarding your house soon, Johnson family.

I managed to watch the first five innings of Wednesday’s game before retiring to bed with the score tied. I cheered some of what I saw. Pedro Alvarez flaunted his shortened swing and sent an opposite field double to the wall. Gerrit Cole started the fifth inning with a walk to the speeder Billy Hamilton, but punched-out the next three batters.

*By the way, I hate the ridiculous question “Is it time for Gerrit Cole to step up and become the ace?” The question, in-and-of-itself, implies that Cole must decide whether or not to become the best pitcher in the rotation. It’s time for Gerrit Cole to become the best dang pitcher he can be, period. Call him an ace if you want.  Hell, call him a cross-eyed quack-a-doodle if it suits you.

I hate watching half a Pirates game and then slipping off to bed, especially if the score is tied. Every time I do this, I have dreams that I learn the final score. I dream that I check the internet and rejoice that the Pirates have won. I dream that I watch the news and bemoan a Pirates loss.

I’d almost feel more conscionable donating my money to fund the punch bowl at the cult leader’s neighborhood meet-n-greet than writing checks to Comcast.

Wednesday night alone, I must have dreamed seven times that I realized the final score. By about fifth or sixth dream, I finally realized that I was, in fact, dreaming, and I needed to first wake-up and check the MLB At-Bat app on my phone for the real final score.

Isn’t that kinda’ messed up?

I woke up at 6:30am, stumbled down the steps, and, thanks my to semi-coherent state, struggled with the numerical unlock combination on my IPhone. I accidentally opened the MLB Ballpark app first.  When I finally opened the MLB At-Bat app, a thumbnail pic of Joey Votto touching home plate gradually came into focus.

I should have stayed asleep.

I caught bits and pieces of A.J. Burnett‘s first start on the Duraband cassette deck radio Thursday afternoon. Batman pitched well. Seven strike outs to one walk, and 58 strikes out of 87 pitches. Good. Good. I was listening when The Big Bull went oppo for his first home run – another encouraging sign that his mechanical adjustments are paying dividends.

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I left work downtown with the score knotted at 2 after seven innings. Since I park on the South Side (to avoid quasi-criminal downtown Pittsburgh parking fees) and walk to my car, I turned on the radio just as the bottom-of-the-ninth was beginning. I wouldn’t have guessed that Rob Scahill would take the mound to face the teeth of the Red’s line-up. Next thing I know, a Marlon Byrd liner is bouncing off Gregory Polanco‘s glove, and Devin Mesoraco is scoring.

I understand that some fans would prefer Mark Melancon to have pitched the bottom-of-the-ninth in a tie, but then he’s already burnt if the Bucs score in extra innings and he’s needed to slam the door.

Oh, well. Scahill…Melamcon…whoever. Bucs lose. The Jolly Roger is still lying at the bottom of the flagpole.

Maybe it’s caught on something.


I’m supposed to take Kait out for dinner tonight (Friday)– our first childless night together since October. The timing is good. ROOT Sports isn’t carrying tonight’s game against the repulsive Brewers.  I hope the wife doesn’t mind if I take the ol’ handheld radio to whatever fancy restaurant she chooses.

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