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Perrotto: A Happy Day … But a Somewhat Sad Day

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Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH – Nostalgia was the order of the day and into the night on Saturday at PNC Park.

When you get to a certain age, nostalgia becomes important. If you would like to use 60 as that arbitrary certain age then I fit.

So, it was quite a bit of fun to see so many of the remaining members of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates be honored before the game against the Atlanta Braves.

Bert Blyleven was there after being unable to make past celebrations because of his broadcasting commitments with the Minnesota Twins. Tim Foli, John Candelaria, Don Robinson, Jim Rooker and Kent Tekulve were there, too, along with assorted other players.

The star of the show was Dave Parker, who is now wheelchair-bound but continues his fight against Parkinson’s Disease. All fans attending the game received bobbleheads in The Cobra’s likeness.

Those fans gave Parker a long and warm ovation. It was much different from his final days with the Pirates in 1983 when fans threw batteries at the superstar right fielder.

The love the fans showered Parker with proves that time does heal all wounds and bygones can become bygones. It is a valuable lesson for us all.

I’ve been blessed in my baseball writing career to have met many players from that 1979 team and, in some cases, become friends with them. The 60-year-old me understands it is just part of my profession. The baseball-crazed 15-year-old me would have fainted in the presence of many heroes of my adolescence.

I was closer to being 15 than 60 on Saturday — without pushing the limits of crossing over from objective reporter to fanboy.

It was great fun to talk with those players on Saturday. There was reminiscing about that 1979 season and that era of baseball in general. And there was lots of talk about grandchildren.

There was also talk about today’s game and the state of the Pirates, who haven’t been back to the World Series since 1979 or won a division title since 1992. Much of the conversation about the current game was off the record as the former players did not want to insult their hosts.

Most of them are unhappy with the state of the game and, no, it has nothing to do with money. It’s the lack of fundamentals, the preponderance of lackadaisical play, the fascination with Statcast metrics and the general lack of feel for the game by players and executives.

And that’s why Saturday’s celebration had a bit of a melancholy feel.

Every player I talked with said they could not believe it had been 45 years in October since the Pirates rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. Just as hard to believe is that the Pirates haven’t been back to the World Series since then.

The last two generations of Pirates’ fans have learned to accept losing. Yet for the men who wore the uniform 45 years ago, the idea that the Pirates could finish with a losing record in 27 of the last 31 seasons is unfathomable.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago that we won it,” Candelaria said. “But we’ve sure as hell waited a long time for the next one.”

This doesn’t seem like the year for the Pirates to break the drought. Despite impressive wins over the World Famous Braves the last two days, their record is just 25-28. Often, it feels like the franchise is at least another 4.5 decades away from their next Fall Classic appearances.

One thing that gives the old-timers hope is the Pirates’ talented trio of homegrown starting pitchers — Paul Skenes, Jared Jones and Mitch Keller.

“We had a great offense,” Foli said of the 1979 team. “We could outscore teams in the regular season but once we got to the National League Championship Series and World Series, pitching was the reason we won. You’ve got to have great pitching to win a World Series. That’s why I don’t think (the Pirates) are far off.”

Pirates fans can only hope Foli is right.

They have waited a long time for another World Series. On a festive day, that point was still driven home.

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