MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

If there are two things we know about Cumberland, Maryland they are 1.) There are two routes to any destination and the shortcut takes just as long as the long way does, and 2.) We’re two hours from everything, including Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

That will come into play for the next three days, as beginning tonight, the resurgent, yet currently struggling, Pittsburgh Pirates will be in Baltimore this weekend to take on the Orioles.

Both teams started fast, as the Bucs got out of the gates at 20-8, but have since lost nine out of 10 to hold on to a half-game lead over Milwaukee in the National League Central. The Orioles are currently 24-13 coming off their series win over Tampa Bay, currently the best team in baseball, and are 4.5 games behind the Rays in the American League East.

Fact of the matter is, most fans who live here have Pittsburgh Pirates fan 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 grew up spending their summers in Pittsburgh with their grandparents, so, obviously, they always went to Forbes Field and 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, my mother’s favorite player.

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

On April 15, 1954, Mom, who taught in Glen Burnie at the time, 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 because of similar matters.

Yes, my mother held a grudge.

Having grown up an Orioles fan, I recall that as a 12-year-old, with the 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 a stupid 12-year-old can, 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.

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 if I would only 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 darkness than when the Colts left Baltimore. In fact, I once saw Brian Femi over 20 years later 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, even though we like the Pirates, for despite what my friends Mike Sawyers and Judge Daggett say, it is impossible to have two favorite teams in the same sport.

In fact, Sawyers, who roots for the Pirates and the Boston Red Sox (sad, really) attended the Pirates-Red Sox series at Fenway earlier this season, and he could wear just one hat.

I’ll let you guess which one he wore. It surprised me, but when in Rome, I suppose …

Having said that, through far too many years of losing by both the Orioles and the Pirates, having 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, because the first time I saw Andrew McCutchen play baseball my eyes fell in love; and now he’s back in a Pirates uniform helping this young Pittsburgh team challenge for a division title.

It’s nice to see baseball fans around here other than Yankee fans wearing happy faces. Too often in the recent past, Baltimore and Pittsburgh sports fans are normally counting days until Ravens and Steelers training camps open.

These are exciting times for both Orioles fans and Pirates fans, so the series that opens tonight will have a great local flavor for the fans of Cumberland.

It’s a shame that one of these exciting young teams will have to lose this series. Unless, of course, it’s the Pirates.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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