Repackaging the Archive (Part VIII): The Pittsburgh Pirates and Fantasy Football 2012

Anyone who has ever read this blog before is probably not too terribly worried about it turning into a “sportsing blog” (or even, for that matter, a blog that talks about fantasy football [hereafter “ffootball”] or football or balls or l’s), but the part of me who adores watching numbers get larger—a not insignificant part—that gamic, stats-seeking, archival, nerdy, baseball-card collecting citizen of these United States . . . that oozing little pus of an excuse for subjectivity, is participating in at least five ffootball teams this fall: two w/ friends and three w/ total strangers (b/c I get bored sometimes and think it seems like a good idea to sign up for random leagues, which always feels weirdly unfulfilling after the drafts are over). In other words, the National Football League for the next little bit, in a an unprecedented fashion for me, has the potential to become my own little tiny archive of interest—i.e. interest in players that I have no vested interest in, other than, quite simply, hoping their numbers go up. I’m horrified, excited, and embarrassed. Mostly, I suppose, embarrassed. (And excited by numbers getting larger. Seriously.)

And so you’re probably like: so why the hell are you writing about it then? We didn’t have to know. Would’ve saved ya a lot of embarrassment. Well, I guess that’s the thing. R. and I went to see the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, the first time all summer, for what is by all accounts an important game,[1] and what an idea sports is/are. The Pirates of the past 20 years are debatably the worst “team” of all time (see fn. 2). But how much merchandise everyone was wearing. How many people were there.[2] How expensive the beers were. Etc. It doesn’t matter how good the team is, who owns them, who’s playing for them, what their uniforms look like, where they play. We realized that what people enjoy, what they pay for, and the very real pleasures that sports can provide revolve around the idea of the Pirates. The name. The abstraction. The “team.” W/ the recent incarnations of the Pens and Stillers, it’s been much more difficult to ascribe fandom w/r/t those teams merely around just some vague abstraction. Sidney Crosby may very well be the best player alive right now. Among the many other reasons one might watch the Steelers, Troy Polamalu may very well be the NFL’s most consistently fun player to watch since 2003.[3] In other words, it’s very, very easy to look at the ’burgh’s other teams and realize why people might like watching them, rooting for them, wearing their jerseys, paying the seven dollars for a hot dog, etc. The Penguins and the Steelers have had those “transcendent” moments since I moved here that sports fandom is all about. They’re great, and watching some of those moments has also been great. Each team is more (and less) than an idea. They are specific, concrete, actual. We can point to things we like about them: players, moments, etc. But, to be blunt (and unfair), it is difficult to do such pointing at the Pirates of the last 20 years (okay, 8 really, for me).

So just as there is absolutely no real reason to be a Pirates fan at this point other than a geographic and frankly arbitrary sense of fidelity to an idea (and not even a very good one at that; the Yankees or, say, Manchester United, are far better ideas)there is no reason to play ffootball other than its idea.[4] But what exactly are these ideas?

What the “P” on fans’ Pirates hats signifies, is, well, a greedy and poorly run corporate conglomerate that said fan is ascribing w/ way more value than said organization in any way deserves. Same w/ the numbers in ffootball. My 2 team freshman year in ffootball made two things clear that anyone who has engaged w/ the simulation even briefly knows: 1) it’s random, like really random, and there’s nothing you can do about it b/c there simply isn’t enough complexity to the game to play it so well as to avoid the sheer, stupid (if almost great) Jordy-Nelson-scoring-30-pts-in-week-17-and-thus-catapaulting-my-terrible-Tebow-led-team-to-within-one-point-of-the-championship randomness; and 2) it completely changes the way I watch actual foozball, finding myself caring about and cheering for dudes I didn’t even know existed before ffootball. In other words, my team is a poorly wrought abstraction that has very little to do w/ 1) me, my choices, or my agency; or 2) the players themselves (let alone any version of football whatsoever). Ffootball, and I admit that this is explicit in its name, can never be anything more than an idea/abstraction.

So what are these ideas that we find ourselves so collectively taken w/? For I will admit that I very much enjoy my ffootball team winning (as well as the Pirates tonight), and I, in all honesty, have little-to-nothing invested in either one, so such enjoyment seems meaningless at best, and insidious, compulsive, neurotic, solipsistic, etc., at worst. Well, as the ffootball season is about to get under way, I’m gonna try to figure that out, try to figure out why I enjoy these particular numbers going up, why I choose to watch this game rather than another (or better yet, doing something else), why I haven’t given up on the Rooney family even though they’ve kept (the simply reprehensible) Ben Roethlisberger around. And ultimately, in both the Pirates and ffootball’s case, I feel like the idea is probably an archival one.

[1] Seriously, I was in a place they were showing ESPN today, and I caught that the Pirates were gonna be on tonight! (My rare use of exclamation should signal how singular that is; it is probably also significant that I didn’t remember this until about the 4th inning. We had gone downtown to go out to dinner, and decided to go see baseball instead since it was starting in like 10 min. and we couldn’t see a reason not to, other than we were kinda dressed fancy [seriously, it was weird—there’s nothing like heels, a print dress, and some new black jeans (I think my first pair ever) to make one feel out of place amidst a gaggle of yinzers in jerseys (nothing gainst the yinzers—I prob. am becoming one at this point, and that’s the thing, the fancy dress was an accident; neither of us even realized baseball was a possibility before we saw the crowds [which also immediate revokes my “yinz card”—or in other words, I gave a vocab quiz today, what am I? my third grade teacher? (I’m looking at you Mr. Lohr)])].) I feel like I lived through a period of Pittsburgh baseball history spanning from 2004 (when I got here and started paying attention) until, well, just now, during which the Pirates did not once play in a game after Aug. 1st that appeared on ESPN. And if they did, it certainly wasn’t b/c they were in the playoff race. The randomness, and really perfection of the evening—the Pirates won 5-0, Wandy Rodriguez was impressive, as was the middle of the Buccos order, and it was freaking gorgeous at the ever wonderful PNC Park—was probably akin to some cosmic mistake, where all of a sudden the entire city of Pgh entered a simulation of what would happen if the movie Major League (1989) started to dictate reality (in no way to suggest a hapless-equivalence b/t the heroic 2012 piratical hickory wielding monsters of tonight’s diamond conflict and Charlie “Wild Thing” Sheen’s team). This is all to say, the Pirates right now are in a fairly good position to make the playoffs this year, not to mention have their first winning season since 1992. They’ve had the most consecutive losing seasons of any major American professional sports team ever. (Really.) No wonder I’d sorta gave up on them a year-or-so-ago. I just couldn’t take the front-office-has-given-up-so-many-times-and-as-a-result-look-like-they’re-not-even-trying-anymore-to pretend-like-their-only-goal-isn’t-to-just-go-on-happily-making-a-tidy-little-profit-by-paying-what-the-Yankees-pay-for-A-Rod-for-a-whole-team(-minus-Doumit)-while-dealing-away-every-player-I-could-possibly-care-about. Seriously, since I have lived in PA, to the best of my memory, Jason Bay, Freddie Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jason Kendall, Jose Bautista, Nate McClouth, Nyjer Morgan, Mike Gonzalez, Oliver Perez, and Ian Snell, and many, many others have been traded away, year after year, right before the trade deadline (wow, if they would’ve kept, and paid, even just those guys, that would’ve been quite the team b/t 2008-2010, w/ McCutchen leading off, and at this point probably not even the best player on the team. Hindsight? No. Anyone in fracking distance could’ve told the Pirates that these were all guys they should’ve kept during the last 8-20 years. It’s nice to see them winning, but hell. Unlike Bill Simmons’s understandable (if annoying) Boston fandom (see Monday’s article on the BoSox), the Pirates owners have been too truly terrible. As such, it is a dubious proposition whether or not the team’s fans should reward them too much for one winning season. If the players do some awesome miraculous stuff this year and win the series, it’ll be great, but the sins of Nutting et al shouldn’t go away so easily. Needless to say, I am conflicted about my Pirate fandom.

[2] There also weren’t that many people there, to Pittsburgh’s credit. Many whole sections were vacant for this “important” game.

[3] And he’s a sweetheart, has long hair, is hot, and the ladies love him, unlike some of his other notable teammates.

[4] This, of course, isn’t totally the case, as Captain Eegee’s Tucson Expats have gathered together a geographically displaced—and thus not arbitrary—group of people who I will very much enjoy, well, whatever it is that people “do” w/ ffootball. Go Pgh Scholars (renamed Happiness Is Submission To).

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