We are in uncharted territory. A team that has never won is winning. A roster that has never been good enough is proving its worth. The Pittsburgh Pirates are 48-37 and lead the National League Central at the All-Star break, and it is everything we were waiting for.
After nineteen consecutive losing seasons, it is hard to argue against the fact that we deserve this. It is hard to argue that there is a fan base that deserves a positive season more than we do. But that is not what we are about. That is not what this team is about. That is not what this city is about.
"Every time I go out there, I have a chip on my shoulder," James McDonald said yesterday after finishing at least seven innings for the eighth time in seventeen starts this season. "All of us have chips on our shoulder... Every day is a statement day."
"It's about time" should not be in our vocabulary. "I've been a fan since..." should not matter. "The Nuttings" should not be our scapegoats anymore. We are grateful but we are humble. We do not take this success for granted. We know where we have been, but there is a reason why we are still here.
There is a reason why we sat through seasons of John Russell as the skipper. There is a reason why we gave Jeromy Burnitz a chance. There is a reason why we dealt with Ronny Cedeño. We saw the light at the end of the tunnel. That light is here now, but we are not relieved.
We are hungry.
".500" should not be the barometer. "Nineteen losing seasons" should not hang over us. "PNC Park" should not be the only thing we brag about. From last year we know where this season could go, but it will not. We have never been there before, but we know where we have to go. We know what we have to do. We are not looking to improve. We are looking to win.
No one else understands. "The Pirates are a great story" they say. "The Pirates are a sentimental favorite" they claim. "The Pirates need..." they analyze. We hear it and we smile. We are not the underdogs, even though they want us to be. This is not the team they think it is.
"We pitch, we play defense, we're hitting," Brad Lincoln said after striking out Jim Thome in a crucial situation to secure a Pirates' win in Philadelphia two weeks ago. "We're here man. We're not going away."
It is not just the team on the field. It is not just the fans in the seats. It is not just the front-office executives who built this roster. We are in this, and we are in this together. There is a reason why Drew Sutton mentioned "family" before "team" in his post-walk-off interview.
But this is not the "We Are Family" Pirates of 1979. These Pirates are incomparable. They are unique. They are perfect. It does not mean they will win, and it does not mean they will not lose. It means they are just what we wanted.
This team is special. There is no other way to say it. Other teams have better records, but they are not us. They cannot fathom what we are embracing. They are not doing what we are experiencing. They are not supposed to lose and we were not supposed to win. After nineteen years, we no longer fear losing. They do.
It is not too soon to wish for the moon because it can be done. Nobody can tell us it cannot. Teams like the Phillies and the Yankees feel like they are entitled to winning. We just remembered we are not entitled to losing.
Players like Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay were always proud to put on the black and gold, but never had the wins to show for it. That is one thing we can claim of the past nineteen years. We kept our pride through thick and thin, and now it is time to embrace our past. The bad is just as important as the good because it has shaped us.
It has shaped us into a 48-37 record. It has shaped us into the division leader. It has shaped us into the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I'm proud to take the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates," AJ Burnett said today after leading the Pirates to their twelfth consecutive victory with him on the mound. "I'm proud to pitch for these players, these fans, this city. They're bringing it out of me. This just makes me proud to be a Pittsburgh Pirate."