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Love and Baseball 

Are we experiencing true love with the Pirates or just a tease?

Let's talk about the perils of love.

When I was in kindergarten I had eyes for a girl who sat across from me in the nursery-rhyme circle. For the sake of this column, let's call her Diane.

In third grade, Diane gave me a Valentine's Day card featuring a picture of two smiling Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a quote that read something like this: We're a perfect pair. Sure, several other classmates received the same card -- since they came in a bulk, store-bought pack -- but mine meant more; it had to.

At our school's annual skating party in fifth grade, I was able to pick up on the vibe that Diane was actually flirting with me, and when the "couple's skate" was announced her friend even nudged her to slow-skate with me. We were too shy to do so, but we both knew we wanted to.

Life was good.

As we approached our awkward teen-age years, things began to change. The popular crowd finally noticed Diane's beauty, which unfortunately helped Diane realize it, too. And any boy of any age is aware that there's nothing more dangerous than a girl who knows how pretty she is.

At the eighth-grade skating party I finally summoned the nerve to ask Diane to skate, but almost as soon as the request left my lips, Diane said "no" with a smirk and rolled away. Later that year, she also declined to dance with me at our school graduation party.

Life was no longer good.

Several times in high school I tried to get Diane to notice me, but every attempt ended with the same result: a broken heart. 

During our college years -- after I developed some confidence and put some more meat on my bones -- I held on to the hope that if I ever ran into Diane at Giant Eagle or Ross Park Mall, she'd realize the error of her ways and fall deeply in love with me. She never did.

After 18 or so years of trying, I finally gave up. My experiences with Diane are why it's been so difficult for me to get swept up in the fervor of Bucco Fever running rampant on the North Side this summer.

Chasing an unrequited love is not too different from rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A year prior to me sharing a margarine container of finger paints with Diane, Willie Stargell was sharing star-patches with his teammates and leading them to a World Series title.

Although the Pirates had up-and-down seasons throughout the '80s, there was always hope for next year.

In the early '90s, just as Diane's beauty became apparent to everyone, so did the Pirates': They won the NL East three years in a row. During this time though, their most-popular players -- Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds -- decided to take their good looks elsewhere, making the folks of Pittsburgh feel like pimply-faced teen-age geeks.

Baseball economics of the '90s and '00s -- the Buccos' awkward years -- ensured that the Pirates would slow-dance with no one, although they did approach the dance floor in 1997, finishing five games behind the Houston Astros (who were able to sip from the NL Central Division punch bowl with a mediocre record of 84-78).

After a decade that ended with seven losing seasons in a row, not even the most star-crossed Pirates fan could have guessed what happened next: The Pirates set an all-time professional-sports record with consecutive losing seasons (currently 18). And fans quit referencing the '79 Pirates -- our last championship team -- and began comparing every new campaign to the Pirates of '92, the last time the team had a winning season.

In relationships, that's called "settling."

So what is one to do when this year's team is not only flirting with a winning record, but an NL Central Division lead? Will newfound attention from national sportswriters and mentions in the first five minutes of Sports Center make the Pirates beautifully complacent, or give them the confidence they need to win games in September?

We'll find out shortly. But if your heart gets broken (again), don't say you didn't see it coming.

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