I get it. Everyone hates the owner. Or the front office. Or both.
I also get this: Josh Bell is booming his way toward a baseball season for the ages, among the most beautiful in the 133-year history of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club. And the only thing missing so far is ... Pittsburgh?
No, I'm not going to wag a finger at low attendance. And anyone who accuses me of such, know that I'll bite back. Almost anything related to attendance at PNC Park should be pinned on Bob Nutting's cheapness, on Frank Coonelly's condescension, on Neal Huntington's drafting, developing and Chris Archer-ing. Those three deserve the bulk of the blame for this divide between our city and our baseball team. And in turn, those who legitimately stay away based on principle are justified in doing so.
But still, that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable to witness.
Seriously, check this out:
That's what Bell faced when Melky Cabrera tugged him out of the dugout for a curtain call after he blasted, one, two, three more home runs in the Pirates' 18-5 annihilation of the Cubs on this remarkable Monday night at PNC Park.
There are a handful of fans in that section right there cheering. A few standing. A couple Cubs fans seated and staring blankly. Another couple Cubs fans cheering respectfully. One child -- one -- off to the right in Pirates gear.
Total official attendance: 17,772
Percentage of those wearing blue: Probably 60-plus
So first off, major props to those hardy souls who stood and roared loud enough that Melky's act wasn't in vain. Imagine if there hadn't been any plea for a curtain call. Fans throughout the place, particularly in the upper decks where the most diehard season-ticket holders have long been rooted, really did the job.
But sorry, uplifting as that aspect of it was, I couldn't help but wonder how different this might be if Bell were a football or hockey player in this town atop his craft. Because that's where he is right now: He's leading all of Major League Baseball with 77 RBIs, 10 more than anyone else. His 1.035 OPS is fifth-best. His 57 extra-base hits is the most by any National League player to this stage of a season since Hank Aaron's 57 in 1959. And he's got 25 home runs through 82 games.
That last one alone should have captured the imagination of our city.
He's the first left-handed hitter with three home runs in a game since Willie Stargell in 1971.
He's on pace to become the first with 40 in a season since Pops' 44 in 1973, and it isn't exactly a mathematical reach to suggest he could threaten Ralph Kiner's record 54 from 1949.
Listen to these names. Look at these names:
We've all heard the tales of how fans at Forbes Field wouldn't leave until Kiner's final at-bat, no matter the score. We worship everything about Clemente and Stargell.
There's something truly special taking place here. Right now. Not 30, 40, 50 years ago. Right now.
But because of that divide, people can't bring themselves to make it to the stadium to applaud this extraordinary, exemplary young man. They just can't. Because of the mess that's been made by the stewards of this civic institution. The citizens trust the Steelers, trust the Penguins and, when those teams have players atop the NFL or NHL ... well, we don't have to guess at the response. It's exactly what we see year after year after year.
Heck, for that matter, we saw it with Andrew McCutchen in his MVP year, 2013. At least a modicum of trust had been restored between city and team at the time ... until it was burned right back down again after a rotation of Ryan Vogelsong, Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio and Jeff Locke was prescribed after a 98-win season in 2015.
This is what's left. They did this.
After Archer doused Bell with Gatorade during his postgame, on-field TV interview that's also pumped through the stadium speakers, Bell was asked what message he had for the fans who showed their appreciation for him on this night. He answered, "Thanks for everything, and see you tomorrow!"
No, he won't. Not with the overwhelming majority. Except maybe a ton of those Cubs fans filling Downtown hotels for the full series.
• Yes, if this is the first thing you're reading on the site/app this morning, I did write about Bell's brilliance and the game. Full, extensive column, actually. But this hit hard, and I'll be damned if I wasn't going to share.
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