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Pittsburgh-- Where the boys are

Words on Sport/

Prabhat Mehta->

Pittsburgh:

Where the

Boys are

The first time I stayed up past 11 pm on a school night was in the fall of 1979. It was October. School had just begun. The Pirates were in the Series. And I was in front of the tube every night -- whether my parents approved or not.

The '79 World Series flashed back at me in detail as crisp as autumn leaves on Friday, as I perused the sports section in The Boston Globe. "The Pirates, nearing their first National League East title in 11 years. . . ."

Eleven years, could it be that long?

Yes and no. For a fan, someone whose earliest memories contain mostly Steelers and Pirates, years without titles are years unspent. Whether a season ends early with only a handful of wins, or whether it remains alive until school begins, the simple truth remains: If there is no postseason, there was no season, and there will be no winter off -- there will only be next season.

Thus, for me -- indeed, for anyone whose day could be made by traveling to Pittsburgh and merely passing by Three Rivers Stadium -- time has stood still. And memories of past Pirate glory remain fresh.

stars

Yesterday. October, 1979. The Family: Willie "Pops" Stargell, Dave "Cobra" Parker, Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner, Ed Ott, Omar Moreno, Kent "Teke" Tekulve, Bert Blyleven, Tim Foli. Aside from Stargell -- now a Hall of Famer -- and Parker, people probably won't remember many of those names. But that's OK; basking in obscurity is nothing new for the Pirates.

Back a little further, to the

day before yesterday. 1971. (I

was only two, but I was already

a fan.) Roberto Clemente (yes, you've heard of him), Pops (ya, ya, but I already mentioned him), Manny Sanguillen, Bruce Kison, Al Oliver, Steve Blass, Richie Hebner. Actually, this is a pretty famous bunch, so I'll go back a little further. . . .

Two days ago. 1960. (I wasn't born yet, but I was already a fan.) Bill Mazeroski. Who? To be honest, he probably doesn't need to be remembered any more than he is already. His is a heroism limited to the last remnants of the brick wall of old Forbes Field.

Mazeroski wasn't the greatest player; he was a better-than-average second baseman with a lifetime batting average of .260. What elevated him to deity status was a twist of the wrist that translated into the greatest upset in baseball history. In a series that was won by the Yankees, but actually lost by the Yankees (blessed be the ever-so-humble New York press), Mazeroski belted the immortal home run over the brick and ivy in Forbes Field. Bottom of the ninth. Seventh game. Score tied. . . .

That '60 Series, for all its great memories (even for someone who wasn't born yet), bore witness

to one particularly outstanding event: It remains the only Series where the Most Valuable Player award was given to a member of the losing team -- Bobby Richardson of the Yankees. Not because someone from the Pirates didn't deserve it, but because no one paid any attention to the Pirates during the Series.

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In today's world of saturation journalism and multi-million-dollar player contracts, it's hard to believe that one team -- and a darn good one at that -- can still go out every day and just play ball. (They used to call them

the Boys of Summer.) But that's what the Pirates -- the last true Boys of Summer -- have been doing for over 100 years.

And this year has been no different. At $15 million, the Pirate payroll is one of the lowest in the league. And currently, the Bucs' day-to-day media coverage consists of two beat reporters. Most Pirate players still get their egos satisfied by doing No. 1 Cochran used car commercials. Not too mediagenic, the Boys of Summer.

I might be exaggerating the relative obscurity of the hometown team somewhat. After all, there are the Cleveland Indians. (The who?) But just ask yourself this: Before the self-professed pundits out here in the Northeast woke up and took notice of the best outfield in baseball -- Barry "US" Bonds (left), Andy Van Slyke (center), Bobby Bonilla (right). And 22-6 pitcher Doug Drabek, ace reliever Bill Landrum (2.19 ERA), and wiry second-baseman Jose "Chico" Lind, how many of you had paid much attention to them?

After the Pirates -- who clinched the division on Sunday -- host the Mets this week to wrap up the season, maybe even New Yorkers will take notice. Well, maybe they won't.

But, then again, who cares?