MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

There are, in the words of our late great friend J. Suter Kegg, “a lot of people walking around here with ‘P’ on their caps.”

Suter, the legendary sports editor of the Cumberland Evening and Sunday Times and founder and president of a nationally-recognized New York Yankees haters club in the 1950s (true story — he mailed out buttons to Yankee haters all over the country), liked to say things like that when talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Don’t misunderstand, Suter liked the Pirates. He covered them and traveled with them as well as the Baltimore Orioles and was a Baseball Writers Association of America member through the Pirates’ chapter, not the Orioles’. He followed and liked both teams very much and was friends with so many people in both organizations.

So he would have been quite interested in this weekend’s Interleague series between the Pirates and the Orioles beginning Friday in Baltimore.

Fact of the matter is a vast majority of the baseball fans who live here have Pittsburgh Pirates pedigree, whether they root for the Pirates or not. After all, for over a half-century the Pirates were the closest major league club within driving distance of Cumberland.

My mother, my aunts and my uncle, for instance, grew up spending their summers in Pittsburgh and at Forbes Field with their grandparents, so, obviously, everybody in our family was a Pirates fan. That is, until June 4, 1953 when the Pirates acquired Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis and Gene Hermanski in a trade with the Chicago Cubs for Joe Garagiola, Howie Pollet, Catfish Metkovichto and … Ralph Kiner, who was my mother’s favorite player.

Needless to say, the news of this trade was not warmly received by my mother, and by letter she informed Pirates general manager Branch Rickey that by trading Kiner he had, in effect, traded her as well. But she wasn’t going to the Cubs.

So on April 15, 1954 she went to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore to see Bullet Bob Turley stymie the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, in the first game the Orioles ever played in Baltimore. Thus, because Branch Rickey had traded Ralph Kiner, my mother went from bleeding black and gold to bleeding black and orange — except for two years of canceled season tickets when the Orioles fired her friend Sam Perlozzo as their manager.

My mother held a grudge. I used to, but not so much anymore.

Having grown up an Orioles fan, I recall that as a 12-year-old, with the 1971 Birds soaring through the American League to their third straight 100-win season and pennant, I made myself believe it would be pretty cool if the Pirates, too, would make it to the World Series. After all, I reasoned, as only an innocent 12-year-old moron can reason, my grandmother was a big Pirates fan and it would make her happy. Plus, Mount Savage High’s Bob Robertson was the star first baseman for the Pirates.

On Oct. 17, 1971 at around 5:30 in the afternoon, I was no longer speaking to my grandmother, who my mother forced me to sit beside at the dinner table that day. Nor did I ever want to see Bob Robertson again in my life. Naturally, everywhere I turned that winter I saw him, as I should have, for he had become a bona fide World Series hero at my and the Orioles’ expense.

Things weren’t much better in 1979. In fact, they were worse because at age 20 I had learned how to run my mouth and make bets with my friends who were Pirates fans, who, despite the Bucs trailing the series 3-1 heading back to Baltimore, agreed to bet me as long as I would just shut up.

Let’s just say it wasn’t long after Omar Moreno caught the ball for the final out of Game 7, that I slinked out of town under more cover of night than the Colts did when they left Baltimore. In fact, I saw Brian Femi a couple of years ago for the first time in about 20 years, and the first thing he said to me was, “Don’t you still owe me five bucks?”

From 1971 on, my Orioles friends and I have not been Pirates fans. We’re still not, for despite what my friends Mike Sawyers and Daggett say, it is impossible to have two favorite teams in the same sport. I found this out the hard way in 1971.

Having said that, through all the years of losing by both the Orioles and the Pirates, having now become a friend of Bob Robertson’s, and through the aging process, I have found that while the Orioles will always be my favorite team, I cannot possibly not pull for the Pirates to do well. Call it what you will — maturity (nah), revisiting my family’s roots (possibly), or having wonderful friends who are Pirates fans (definitely). Or, perhaps this mellowing has come about from my pure affection for the game as in one form or another we are able to watch or listen to every Pirates game, as well as those of the O’s and the Nationals.

I like the Pirates very much, and I want them to do well.

Just not this weekend.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT