Thursday, September 26, 2013

July 22- Pittsburgh Pirates

This story takes place long before the date on the front-right panel of this Pittsburgh Pirates cap, and still stands as one of the most traumatic times in my life. In my Father’s Day post from June 16th I touched on bits and pieces of a relationship I was in while I lived in Eugene, Oregon and went to school at the University of Oregon. I’ll do my best to not give a longwinded explanation of how everything went down, but what I can tell you is that she and I met in June of 2008 about a week after I finished treatment for intestinal parasites that almost killed me a month prior. From then until the end of August of 2009 we were together, and in roughly 60% of that span we were at each other’s throats. In those dark moments I developed a deep depression and began cutting myself and heavily considered committing suicide. Obviously the easiest solution would have been to end the relationship; however, when the other party threatens to kill themselves if you go, it kind of makes things worse. The last thing I wanted was the self-inflicted death of someone who is clearly mentally disturbed on my conscience. The breakup finally came in early September a few days after her birthday and roughly two-and-a-half weeks after I helped pack up her belongings and drive her and everything she owned to Anchorage, Alaska from Eugene as she locked up a job to teach German at an immersion school. For those of you who don’t know how far that is it’s a tad over 4,000 miles away. It took as about four-and-a-half days to drive it and only four hours for me to fly back into Portland. Crazy. We had no plans on splitting up, but she ultimately dropped the hammer not too long after she got settled. She had been talking to someone else before she left. I should have been surprised, but this wasn’t exactly the first time such an act of distrust was brought up in our relationship.

I know I shouldn’t have been miserable or depressed, but when you give so much of your time and energy to someone you can’t help but feel that the world is out to get you. Not to mention the fact that most of my money was gone after helping her achieve her “ideal dream” of getting as close to her happy place as she had when she lived, went to school and worked in Munich, Germany. In the months that followed I fell apart. The typical high school drama between quarrelling lovers took place via Facebook and emails and it got so bad that my life spun out of control. I lost my job working as a morning room service waiter and evening bartender at the Hilton, my grades started to slip and I began drinking heavily and screwing every woman in sight. “This is it,” I thought. “I have nothing to live for.” The moment had come a few days after the 2009 fall term ended that I ultimately decided that I was going to take my own life. All of my hopes and dreams for 2010 seemed irrelevant. The biggest one of which was to go to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, something I had been planning and saving for since 2006, but the money was all gone. All spent on trying to make the one person happy that I never could.

To make a long story short, I obviously didn’t hang myself as I had planned and I was immediately checked into counseling at the behest of my mother and the psychologists on the U of O’s campus. Things had gotten so bad in my recover process that I was given a choice: Go home for winter break with my parents OR be institutionalized. Needless to say, option one was the most appealing. For three weeks my other and stepfather kept a close watch on me. I did my best to contact the outside world to let my friends know that I was still alive and they in return sent me well-wishes and dropped by to see me when they paid a visit to Portland. A steady stream of Lithium and sleep aids was really all it took to help right what was going wrong in my brain. Never in my life had I felt so helpless and scared, but as I sit here today, writing this piece I can’t help but be ever so grateful that I finally accepted hitting bottom only to rebuild myself with the help of the people I love most.

After a few more counseling sessions my psychiatrist and therapist both felt that I was no longer a danger to myself and allowed me the chance to do things on my own again. Me being me, I did things to the extreme and drove down to Pasadena, California to surprise all of my friends as our Ducks were playing in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. 

Maturity at its finest.

It was a bitter loss, but the overall experience of being with my friends was all that I needed to comfort me. The trip to Magic Mountain the next day really helped too.

When I returned to Eugene for the winter term a few days later I did it with a resilient stride. My grades improved. My writing became more profound, and much more detailed. I was reading more often and rediscovering all the things from my past that I held so dear growing up; things like video games, comic books, WWE and most important, baseball. Somehow I had disallowed myself to enjoy to goofier things in life after the responsibilities of life had kicked in when I moved out of my mom’s house. As I started dating all of those little things that make me who I am today had died out and become lost. I found myself trying to appeal to the person who I thought I wanted to be with as opposed to just being myself. If my hitting bottom taught me anything, it’s that the person that I was, the confused, scared shell of a man that I was evacuated itself from my body when I was going through recovery. The confident, life-loving adventurer is all that is left. I truly couldn’t be happier.

In February 2010, a few days after my 27th birthday, I discovered a strange financial loophole in my taxes and grant money which essential put $4,000 into my pocket shortly after I filed my taxes and started the spring term. Back in 2006 when I started planning my World Cup trip I had figured it would cost me roughly $10,000 to be able to live in Johannesburg, South Africa for a month and be able to attend a fair portion of the games being played, including my favorite squad: the English National Football Team.


I realize it’s a bit weird for me, an United Statesman (American is an ambiguous term), to cheer for the Three Lions, but there is a very good reason as to why I’m treasonous in my soccer fanhood. The very first game I ever saw on television took place in 1990 during the World Cup in Italy. The first round match in question took place on June 11th and pitted England against their political rival the Republic of Ireland. As a seven-year-old I didn’t really understand the impact the game would have in their respective countries, all I saw were two countries playing a game against one another. The other thing that I should point out is that I didn’t realize how much Irish blood coursed through my veins because as soon as Gary Lineker scored a goal to put England on top in the eighth minute I was sold. At that age, once you develop a kinship for something it’s hard to let it go over time. Kevin Sheedy scored for Ireland in the 73rd minute, bring the match to a draw, but I stuck with England all the way to their fourth place finish as they lost to the host country in the third place match. And like a good Irish boy, my disdain for the Italian National Team was born. 

This little story might also help explain why my first tattoos were the Irish flag and the Three Lions crest for the English National Team on each arm. As contradictory as it may seem the other part of this story is that my two favorite all-time players, Damien Duff (Ireland) and Joe Cole (England), both played together on my favorite club team, Chelsea, from 2003-2006. Yah, all of my tattoos are extremely deep-rooted.

Back to the story

With $4,000 in my pocket plus my new job at Max’s Tavern which I had started a few days after I got back from the Rose Bowl, the reality of being able to finally witness a World Cup was getting closer. The one downside of all of this, at the time, was that all of the tickets for England’s matches had all been scooped up do to the lottery system that had in place; however, for $80 I was able snag tickets for three games, the most notable of which was Ivory Coast vs. Portugal. What I didn’t count on was the fact that a roundtrip place ticket, even a few months out, was going to coast me $3,000. Then I still had to find a place to stay, eat, get around, etc. which meant that my original estimate of $10,000 wasn’t that far off. The reality of how much this trip was going to cost me set in, but didn’t really get me down. I did what I could to find a cheaper route, but nothing was available. After two weeks of intense research I had all but lost hope when an ingenious idea hatched. Rather than go to the country in which the matches are being held, why not go to the countries that are participating? I had gotten my passport a year prior to that realization and the idea of getting it marked up with multiple stamps on my first trip sounded awesome, so I went back to the computer and checked out flights into Europe. The cheapest I found was $1,300 roundtrip to Copenhagen, Denmark, and my travel timeline was good enough for two-and-a-half weeks as I still had to be back in Eugene for the start of summer term to receive more grant money so that I wouldn’t be dead broke when I got home. So, I bought the tickets, went to AAA and bought a month long Eurail pass (you can’t buy them in Europe), packed up enough clothes, my computer, my Ipod, a suit (classy), toiletries, a jar of peanut butter (no joke), my Waldo doll (seriously, no joke)… 

and a military utility blanket into a hiking backpack and flew 16 hours from Portland to Amsterdam to go through customs, and then finally landed in Copenhagen. 

The only time I'll ever see Greenland.

And boy, did I ever look marvelous when I got off the plane.

Key component: Mustache still in tact.

The most important thing to remember from this travel process is that I left sometime in the early morning on June 5th and arrived in the afternoon on June 6th. I bring this up because my time was limited in Demark as I was leaving for Amsterdam the next evening. Sooooooo… no sleep ‘til Amsterdam.

First bar I saw in the airport in Copenhagen. Seriously!?

Despite that fact that I didn’t speak Dane I somehow managed to find my way from the airport to the hostel which was tucked away behind an old church in a hard-to-find corner of town. And when I say it was hard to find I mean that it took meeting up with two other guys from the States, Steven and Richard from Pennsylvania, who were equally as perplexed in finding the hostel because there wasn’t a noticeable sign. But, we managed and checked in. I quickly unpacked and locked up my gear and hit the streets.

Of all the reasons why I wanted to visit Denmark, besides do some investigating on my dad’s side of the family…

I wanted to go to the brewery of my favorite beer company, Carlsberg. I developed a huge fascination for the lager years before at a bar in downtown Portland which no longer exists and there was only one bar in Eugene that carried it in bottle form called the Bier Stein, a world of beers sort of establishment. What I wasn’t expecting was that the brewery closed at 6:00 PM and that they were closed the next day, Tuesday. That part really confused me, but I guess Tuesday is some sort of form of Sunday in Denmark because everything was virtually closed the next day. Anyway, with a limited knowledge of the city, a few maps that I really couldn’t read and some shoddy directions I ventured out into Copenhagen to find my watering hole Mecca.

I wandered aimlessly for a solid two hours, taking in the sights, discovering a city that’s older than the country I live in… and getting lost.

But alas, I could sense that I was getting closer to my goal.

With about 45 minutes to spare and two quick photos because I’m clearly a 12-year-old at heart…

I found the correct path. However, I showed up right as the gates were closing. I was morose.

So, I did the next best thing; I found the closest bar and crushed about seven pints of Carlsberg. It was amazing. It was still a bit light out and I needed sustenance so I waltzed casually (drunkenly) into a pizza joint run by Turks and picked up a pepperoni pizza. Now, I said pepperoni pizza, but apparently that also means it comes with mushrooms. I don’t really understand the logic there, but I managed. The only problem from this point was walking all the way back to the hostel without getting lost.

I totally forgot that the official start of summer was upon us so it was ridiculously bright out around 9:00 PM as I arrived at my destination. I still had about half of my pizza left and Steven and Richard were both kicking it on the patio with a beer each. 

No, this isn't a concentration camp.

The two of them were on leave from the Navy and were doing a similar European tour during their free time, but neither cared much for the soccer that was about to go down. There was another girl, Kristi from Russia, and an Australian named Andrew who I ended up cruising around a small berg of Copenhagen called Christiania the next day with. As the sun set and the shift at the desk ended for the Swede named Elof, he brought us all out a round of Carlsberg dark and we shot the breeze. It was also around this time that I had a brief moment of clarity and retreated back to my room to retrieve my computer as the time was quickly approaching 1:00 PM in the States. What is this significance? Well…

6/7/10: World Cup was still only four days away and we all felt that something playing in the background would have made for an interesting conversation piece. This could have been music, a TV show or a sporting event. Remembering that the Chicago Cubs were hosting the Pirates in an early match I decided to kick on my and put the game on since I didn’t have to worry about blackout restrictions in Denmark.

Steven, as it turned out, was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and grew up watching the Pirates his whole life. Andrew, Elof and Kristi didn’t have any real understanding of what baseball was so the three of us Statesmen did our best to keep up with the others’ questions as we got drunker into the night. The game itself wasn’t all that thrilling with the exception of Marlon Byrd going 3-4 with two RBI, but the Pirates had a few moments like: Andrew McCutchen legging out a triple and former Oakland Athletics Bobby Crosby roped two doubles and Dana Eveland took to the hill and gave up three earned runs.

There was an unusual feeling that came over me in that I traveled across the planet, had a great day taking in another culture, but still found myself enjoying the one bit of American culture that I love the most, baseball. Whether my new friends really tried to understand the game wasn’t really the purpose of what we were doing. All of us had a special little thing to share with one another, and all of us got away from our respective countries to end up in this part of the world, even for just a night. As I get older and look back on the things I accomplished this trip is by far the one I am most proud of, and the one where I truly felt that, even for one day, I had become an ambassador of baseball. The MLB Fan Cave will always have a special place in my heart as it served as the platform to spread my love of the game to a larger audience, but this moment was the first time in which I was able to share it with multiple cultures and walks of life. 

22: I suppose I should talk about the hat first before I really get moving into another topic. The Pirates introduced this cap at the start of the 2009 season and has served as the team’s alternate cap when they’re not celebrating Military Days or Throwback Sundays. Everything about the cap is identical to their normal game cap with the exception of the white outline around the “P.”

One of the interesting theories that I’ve heard about the “P” itself, which was first used by the Pirates in 1948, is that it tells a bit about the city and the state. For instance, the bottom of the “P” is meant to look like a key as Pennsylvania is the Keystone state. The four points on the bubble of the “P” represent Point State Park (The Point, as it’s known) and the other three represent the three rivers. If that’s true, that’s ridiculously, mind-blowingly awesome.

Even though McCutchen only slapped a triple during that June 7th game in 2010, there is no doubt that if there was one guy to represent as the fact of this generation of the franchise, it would no doubt be McCutchen… or possibly Jason Kendall if anyone outside of Pittsburgh remembers him.

Attending Fort Meade Middle School in Florida, McCutchen was eligible to play varsity baseball as an eighth grader at Fort Meade High School. He batted .591 that year. During McCutchen's varsity career, he batted .474, with his average for his senior season over .700, with eight home runs, 40 RBI, 45 stolen bases, and four strikeouts. He also ran track and was one of the top football recruits in the state of Florida, but opted for a career in baseball. He was also a part of a state title winning 4x100m relay his freshman year of high school.

McCutchen, who had signed with the University of Florida, was drafted 11th overall by the Pirates in the 2005 MLB Draft and signed with them instead of becoming a Gator. He started for the South Atlantic League's All-Star team in 2006, his first full season as a professional. At the end of that year, the Pirates named him the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. McCutchen was consistently considered a top prospect, being ranked a top 50 prospect in all four of his minor league seasons by Baseball America, peaking at number 13 before the 2007 season.

On June 3, 2009, after the Pirates traded starting center fielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves, McCutchen was called up to the majors for the first time. He made his debut the next day, playing the now vacant center field spot and batting leadoff against the New York Mets. He singled in his first career at-bat, off starter Mike Pelfrey. He ended the day with two singles, one RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base in four at-bats He recorded his first career four-hit game five days later, against McLouth and the Braves, in a 7-6 Pirates loss. Two of his hits were triples, making him the first Pirate with two triples in a game since Tike Redman accomplished the feat in 2003. McCutchen was named the Baseball America Rookie of the Year for 2009, but finished in fourth place on the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) list behind the likes of Chris Coghlan, J.A. Happ and Tommy Hanson. Yah, ridiculous.

But McCutchen took it all in stride. He put up modest, similar numbers his sophomore season, but really turned it on in 2010 when he hit 23 home runs, 89 RBI and stole 23 bases on his way to making his first All-Star Game appearance. In 2012 he bested all of his previous career numbers by hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI, his first Gold Glove, his second All-Star Game bid, his first Silver Slugger Award and a third place finish for the National League MVP. Oh! And he also led the NL with 194 hits on the season. His WAR was only 14 points lower that that of Buster Posey’s, but who’s really counting?

The timing of the introduction of this hat and McCutchen’s arrival into Major League Baseball couldn’t have been anymore perfect. The man is quickly on his way to changing the face of Pirates’ baseball and leading them back into the Glory Days much in the same way Ralph Kiner, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell all led their Pirates teams to successful seasons. I for one am happy to say that I’ve been able to witness something special since Day 1.


  1. First, this is a great post. Second, there is a lot going on here that quite honestly lines up (not identical, but close enough) with my life. Poisonous relationship (2006-09). Rock bottom (2009-10). Rebuild (2010-11). World traveler (2011, Amsterdam & Africa via mission trip). New life, new people (you're engaged and we celebrate our first anniversary in a few weeks). And I do enjoy watching McCutchen play baseball.

    1. Sorry it took me so long to respond to this Donny. It's amazing how similar some peoples' lives actually are. I think that's why I decided to consciously evolve my blog from just historical stories into personal stories that reflect the era, players or even the team whose cap I'm writing about.

      There are truly more interesting things out there than what takes place on the ball field and if a part of my life is able to help others feel good about their lives or even just realize that someone else had the same fortune/misfortune it might help them open up and realize there is always someone to talk to.

      Glad to hear you've gotten over the bad and into something truly extraordinary.