Pirate Fan Rip Van Winkle’s Nap

(thenotsomorningshow.com)- On a fall afternoon in 1993, life long Pittsburgh resident and Pirates fan Rip Van Winkle III (or RVW3) managed to get out of a another day of work. His energy was sapped and his home town Pirates were going to miss the playoffs for the first time after three straight appearances in the National League Championship series, what could be hurt by taking a little nap under the tree up on the hill?

After a nice little hike, RVW3 reached the summit and crouched in the shade beneath the tree limbs, and closed his eyes to dream.

A grey bearded RVW3 awoke from his nap on October 2, 2013 and wandered down the hill, unusually groggy and wobbly. As he entered town he could read the Pittsburgh Pirates versus St. Louis Cardinals playoff banners and thought to himself “Is this some kind of joke? We just missed the playoffs.”

Digging through his pockets RVW3 pulled out a tarnished dime and attempted to find a pay phone to call on his friends for some clarification, but no pay phone could be found as he paced through town. As he discovered and pawed through his matted beard he spotted two boys approaching, the older, taller one in a Pirates cap, the younger of the two wearing a Pirates pinstripe jersey that was much too large for him.

“Hey fellas, how you doing, what is up with the Pirates?”

The larger of the two answered, “You must have been away for quite some time, we are going to the playoffs.” A smiling RVW3 response of “What a difference a year makes,” drew only blank stares, and the boys scurried off.

Continuing down the road RVW3 checked his wristwatch and pager, both were non-functional, the batteries had been worn out. “Excuse me miss,” he inquired of a passing woman, holding a Pirates black and gold purse “do you have the time?”

As the woman dug through her handbag RVW3 thought to himself “there is an advantage to wearing a watch on your wrist.” She pulled out her clock and informed him that the current time was “4:15.” RVW3 was about to ask another question of her when… her clock rang. The woman put the clock to her ear and walked away speaking into it while he again scratched at his beard.

Feeling a bit unnerved, RVW3 decided to head straight home, which would take him by the local ballpark, to clean himself up and get some answers.

As he neared the park sounds of baseball began to fill the air, when the baseball field came into view RVW3 could see it was filled with young children playing the game. Boys and girls, nearly each one had a piece of Pirates apparel included with their outfit, playing in a pick up game. The activity caught his attention and he wandered over and took a seat in the bleachers to watch the action, and listened to the sounds of the game.

While watching silently RVW3 let his imagination fill with his Pirates latest accomplishment, back in the playoffs, rebuilt overnight, or over the last year anyway. He felt an ache in his back, let out a little groan and leaned back against the next row of seats in the bleachers.

“Excuse me sir?’

The voice came from a little boy in a baggy Pirates pinstripe jersey, the very same boy he had seen earlier in town with his taller, older, friend.

“Are you really a Pirates fan?” The boy asked.

“Am I a Pirates fan? Let me tell you how much of a fan I am son,” RVW3 began, “The Pirates played in the first World Series in 1903, won their first in 1909, and won it again in 1925. I wasn’t born when Bill Mazeroski won the ’60 Series with his 9th inning home run in game 7, but I can name every starter on that team. Roberto Clemente batting .414 and us winning the ’71 Series. Willie Stargell led the ’79 team to a title the year I graduated high school, and I remember every player on the roster of those teams too.”

“Last season was tough, after coming so close to the World Series three years in a row, then losing Bonds, I truly thought our Pirates were in for a tough haul. To see how quickly we turned this around is really, quite remarkable.”

The boy tilted his head slightly, the way a puppy does when it can’t understand what you are trying to tell it, and responded, “This is the first time I have ever seen the Pirates get to the playoffs.”

RVW3 responded, “Well you are young, wait until you have followed them for a few years, you will get used to it.”

The boy shook his head, “I am 11 and the Pirates have been my team forever, I know more about the Pirates than I know English, Math and History combined! They have not been in the playoffs since 1992.” His hard stare seemed to dare the older man to challenge his intelligence.

With a chuckle RVW3 decided to play along, at the very least the child’s unique grasp of time was pleasing to him. He returned his attention to the action on the field and replied, “Really? Answer me this, Mr. Baseball, who was the last Pirate to lead the National League in home runs?”

“Willie Stargell.”

“Very good,” still watching the older kids play, “in 1973 that was easy, who was the last Pirate pitcher to win the Cy Young Award?”

“Doug Drabek.”

“Correct, but that was much more recent, 1990. Who was the last Pirate to win the National League batting title?”

“Freddy Sanchez.”

RVW3 laughed, “There was a wild guess, incorrect, Bill Madlock won the batting title in…”

“1983…” interrupted the young boy, “and Freddy Sanchez batted .344 with 200 hits to win the batting title in 2006.”

With that RVW3 froze, his eyes slowly diverted from the field to the young boy standing at the foot of the bleachers, “When …” The boys pocket rang, he reached in and pulled out a devise hardly larger than his 11 year old hand, placed it to his ear and spoke.

“Hi mom, I am at the ballpark… but all my homework is done and saved on the computer… I’m talking baseball with my friend…” the boy took the phone from his ear and whispered to RVW3 “What’s your name?”

“Rip”

The boy smiled and returned the phone to his ear, “His name is Rip mom… I know… Okay I will… Thanks mom.” The clock beeped when the boy touched it and he returned it to his pocket. His eyes met RVW3′s stare, “It looks like I got you with Freddy Sanchez, didn’t I Rip?”

“You may have kiddo, you may have.”

RVW3 continued his probe, “So you know your baseball, always has been my favorite game too, let’s check what you know about the game itself.”

The little boy smiled and tugged on his jersey while taking a seat in the empty bleachers two rows below the older man, they both watched the action as RVW3 began to pepper the boy with questions. His head was still not clear, and processing the information he had acquired in this conversation was not helping the dizziness, he thought deliberately on his questions and the answers before asking. Some of what he learned had happened in the game was;

The asterisk was removed from Roger Maris 61 home run season of 1961, not because it was unfair, but because the 61 homer mark had been surpassed six times in a four year span. Making all Maris went through a moot point in history, as now he holds the 7th best single season mark.

Both Greg Maddox and Randy Johnson each won the Cy Young Award four times in a row.

Major League Baseball expanded to include The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Miami Marlins, the Diamondbacks had a World Series title, the Marlins had two.

Baseball had a strike that ended the 1994 season, no play offs, no series, no chance for Tony Gwynn (.394) to bat .400.

Bud Selig, former Milwaukee Brewers owner and acting commissioner, was now the commissioner of MLB.

RVW3 was firing questions at the 11 year old baseball encyclopedia, and the boy readily responded with concise answers and references. The grey haired man was both amazed by the child and dismayed by some of the information that was shared. In the middle of an inquiry on steroids, the boys pocket clock rang once again.

“Hi mom… ohhh, already… yes mom… I am coming.” The boy pushed and received his beep, returned the clock to his pocket and flashed RVW3 a sheepish grin. “I got to go, time for dinner, it has been nice talking with you.” With that the boy turned and began his run home.

“Hey kid, last question,” RVW3 shouted out, “how many World Series have the Pirates won? How many division titles?”

The boy stopped, turned and smiled, “You already answered that yourself, we haven’t had a winning season in 21 years. And you can call me Rip, it’s my name too, my mom named me after my uncle.”

With that little Rip turned and continued home.

“Wow’” thought a smiling RVW3, “I haven’t missed a thing. Let’s go Pirates!”

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*This piece is truncated from a larger, older story that has been waiting years to be published. By Mike Lips – mike@mikelips.com

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