Twenty-one years sit there, young and hardened, confused and secure. There's no talking to 21 years, no making sense of it, like it just showed up, here the whole time.
Since the fall of 1992, 21 years have grown into this being, this beautiful being that can't possibly be the creation of all those heart-hammering and irrational decisions. It's just too good now. Too right. So strong. And you wonder how the disappointment and the anger and the sadness could straighten itself so, rise up, broaden its shoulders and look you square in the eye.
Damned brash, it is. Like all that other stuff never happened. Like it was worth it. Like 21 years came crashing down the stairwell, head over heels, and, when it hit the bottom, came up with a crooked smile, its arms spread smugly, shouting, "Ta-da!" like this was the stinkin' plan all along. Like you weren't at the bottom of the stairs – you know, every time, just in case – to catch it.
Along the way, you've tried to be a friend. And you've believed. My God, have you believed. You've cried yourself to dehydration, because it's just so scary out there, and then the afternoons warm up and it feels like spring, and what could possibly go wrong when it feels like spring? You've been proud and you've been understanding. You've rooted from a distance until your throat went raw, and then you kept at it, because that's the job, that's the calling, and your heart wouldn't have it any other way. Time and space and blind luck put you together in this place at this very moment, put 21 years on the clock, and said thank you. This is who you are. This is what you did. And this is what's come of that.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are winners again, which is nice for Pittsburgh and the Pirates.
A few nights ago I was at dinner with my sons. Connor, the oldest, was born on November 11, 1992. This was 28 days after Stan Belinda to Francisco Cabrera, Barry Bonds to Mike LaValliere, Sid Bream to the plate, and, "Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!" Over and over. These were the words that ended what had become of the Pirates and initiated a couple decades of, let's say, character construction. Of more than a few trips down the stairwell. Of tears and some good laughs. Tears, mostly.
And look at them now, 21 years later. Smart. Capable. Sure of themselves. They look good. Whatever's out there beyond today, tomorrow's fight, they are prepared. They are equal to it. Maybe they don't win, maybe it's not even close, but 21 years have put them here to try and to live with what comes. That's just baseball. That's life.
The television showed a football game and we watched. But I was thinking of Connor and his confidence, his wide shoulders, how he's always identified with the underdog, how he seemed to grow up in an eye-blink. How proud I am of him, this beautiful creation, how he's turned out.
And I thought, "It's been 21 years. Twenty-one. Like I've raised the Pirates."
In a few weeks, right about the time the regular season is settled and everyone takes their place in their playoff brackets, Connor will board a bus for Camp Pendleton and boot camp. He's going to be a Marine. When I see him again he'll be able to maim me with a Wet-Nap.
I guess this is where you grab on, and believe more than ever. Twenty-one years sit there and they're rolling down the block on training wheels, and singing that Thomas the Tank Engine song, and leaving the bread bag undone. And hoisting an M16.
So you take a breath and miss what it was and love what it is and pray for what it will be. Yeah, 21 years is a helluva long time until it's gone. It was a lot of work until the work is done, and then it's just him going off to do this thing by himself.
Twenty-one years is some kind of run, whether good or not so good, and usually both, but always with good in your heart. Twenty-one years is enough to know a man or a team, one you've lived with and cared about and leaned into. The fall of 1992 seems like an awfully long time ago, all those years and all those seasons, and they do linger. You carry them forever.
But, man, do they go by.