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Bandwagon Jumpers Needed

It was mid-July and the Pirates were not only over .500, they were also in first place. So right about then, you started to think NASA had done something dire to the alignment of the planets and put us all on uncharted ground.

So much for those who whined, “They’ve lost a whole generation of fans.”

You start winning, that lost generation manages to get up to speed fairly quickly. Winning fixes everything, and it also clouds memories.

Once Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin took over the Penguins, nobody could recall the days of Rico Fata and Ramzi Abid.

Of course, sudden success also leads to resentment. Some people were complaining about bandwagon jumpers, who developed an interest in the Pirates only when the Pirates became interesting.

This is a phenomenon unique to sports, the idea of taking pride in purchasing a sub-standard product.

You never hear people say, “I ate at that restaurant five times a week for 15 years. Had about six good meals.”

People don’t go to bad movies so the theater can stay in business.

When parts start falling off your car, you find a new mechanic.

But there’s some sort of perverse value in supporting a sports team that gives a bad return on dollars spent.

Only in sports, where the customer is always wrong, could this happen.

You didn’t spend money to watch Jeff D’Amico throw wild pitches or to see Jeromy Burnitz loaf down the line?

You’re no fan, and it’s a bad baseball town.

But when people buy tickets regardless of the product, what’s the incentive to make things better?

This is a crazy concept, but give people a quality product and they’ll respond. It’s more dramatic in the Pirates case, because they’ve been bad for so long.

The only thing Pirates fans have wanted is a team that doesn’t make them embarrassed to be fans.

A neighbor sees a guy loading the car and asks where he’s going. If he says the Steelers or Penguins game, he gets an admiring nod and, “How did you get the tickets?”

Same scenario, he says he’s going to a Pirates game (pre-2011). He gets a quizzical look and the expectation of an explanation.

“Aw, someone at my wife’s job was handing out tickets…” would be an acceptable reason.

That’s the 18-year hole they dug for themselves.

Enjoy the season, no matter where it ends up. And don’t bore the person next to you with stories of the 26 games Raul Mondesi played here in 2004.

In other matters…

  • The Penguins had Eric Tangradi at their Prospects Camp, which is like having a 16-year-old sign up for Little League. The idea was to have him dominate and show some leadership qualities when surrounded by kids getting their first look at an NHL dressing room. It didn’t happen. That’s bad news for the Penguins, who need to have talent develop within the system to ease some of their salary cap concerns. Tangradi has some work to do when he gets to real training camp next month.
  • The Fan (93.7) was quick to drop John Seibel as Pitt football sideline reporter. Seibel had reportedly run afoul of Pitt with his criticisms of the program during the afternoon talk show he co-hosts. Spies report former coach Dave Wannstedt unloaded on Seibel at one road game. As The Fan seeks other play-by-play rights (they’re hot after the Pirates), does this mean the dialog will be toned down to protect that relationship? Does The Fan lose its bite if a partnering sports organization barks?
  • James Harrison makes bad choices, but where are the people he pays to look out for his interests? When you have a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL, you don’t add to the perception by posing with guns and a glare. You play against that image by posing with babies and big smile. That’s just Image Shaping  101, something his “people” should grasp.

John Mehno has been covering Pittsburgh sports since 1974 and is the author of “Pittsburgh’s Best Sports Arguments” (Sourcebooks).

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