This concept may make sense to some and make no sense to others. If you're a sports fan, you know what I'm talking about. I mean a REAL sports fan. One that reads articles in your local paper after games, follows your team's beat writers on Twitter, and watches every game you're capable of watching. Folks from cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, or Boston might know a lot about what I'm talking about.
I have gotten to the point where I can predict when my depression will set in each year. Late December through early February, most of March through early April, early May through early June, and mid-September, or, NFL playoffs, March Madness, MLB Opening Day, NHL playoffs, and the start of NFL/NCAA football season. Thankfully (kinda), the Pirates have never given me much to care about aside from the start of the season, so October is sorta safe.
There's no way around it. It's a simple formula that I am 2500 miles away from the center of my sports fandom. People in the northwest simply don't care about sports as much as the east coast or midwest and that's okay. It stinks, but it's okay. It makes it hard for me to really get into the teams I've followed forever because I don't have as many folks to talk to about the Penguins, Pirates, or Steelers. They like other things and that's cool. I don't love hiking (yet) or dogs (ever) or climbing stuff (dangerous), but I knew that was the culture coming into this chapter of my life.
The homesickness doesn't come from the teams as much as you'd think, although I do love a good walk down memory lane with Soixante-Six. No, it's the memories tied to them that really hit me.
With the Penguins, the memories are abundant. Walking into Police Station Pizza on Friday nights with my dad to see the Pens game on a 19-inch color TV sitting on top of the Coca-Cola fridge for the cooks to watch. Recording portions of TV or radio broadcasts on cassette tapes so I can listen again the next day while mom carted me around running errands. Creating our own wooden shooter-tutor for my hockey net so I could re-enact games from the night before. As an adult, creating lifelong friendships over games at the Otto or Redfield residences, remembering that we don't talk during play unless it's to instruct ("PINCH!"). Vowing never to eat Mrs. Malkin's red borscht without beets again because it jinxed a Stanley Cup game against the Red Wings. Drinking nothing but Pabst Blue Ribbon during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup because that was my good luck charm.
For the Pirates, so many memories of trips to see the worst team in baseball for about 40% of my joyrides in my first 2 years of driving. Joking about the oft-forgotten pieces to the longest seasonal losing streak in pro sports history (20 years), such as Jermaine Allensworth, Francisco Cordova, or, my personal favorite, Rob Mackowiak. Playing wiffleball in my backyard with my closest friends picking different eras of Pirates teams to be (with 1992, of course, being the most popular). Spending most summer evenings with the game on the radio or the TV for the last 20 (losing) seasons.
The Steelers are the biggest unifier. My mother does not watch sports, but she surely knows if the Steelers won or lost each week thanks to the mood of my father. Watching games with my dad at Grandma's house. Watching playoff games with friends in high school and putting our jerseys over our faces for each field goal attempt. Yelling obscenities at Ike Taylor. The list goes on.
It doesn't stop there, either. Pitt sports have been a staple in my life the whole time, as well. Going to games at old Pitt stadium after I'd go play video games or mess around with AutoCAD while dad worked overtime at his engineering job. Choosing games against crappy teams like Rutgers or Temple because we knew there'd be tickets available and Pitt might actually win. Shooting hoops in our driveway with my friends to let off steam after Pitt would lose tough games. The good years in the early 2000s when the unthinkable happened and bowl games and March Madness became staples year-in and year-out. Tyler Palko. Larry Fitzgerald. The list goes on again. (re: It's Tough Being a Pitt Fan).
Needless to say, these memories and feelings creep up when each season reaches their pivotal points. I've spent the last 2 years searching for anywhere to watch games at bars or online. Subscribing to MLB.TV because I couldn't imagine a summer without Pirates baseball. Finding a Steelers bar where I could watch games with people who aren't still bitter about a pathetic Super Bowl with the local team. Finally moving into a house (with Canadians, no less) that has cable where I can watch the Penguins. These are necessary evils to maintain sanity in these times of depression.
There's really no way to alleviate this depression. It's something I'll have to live with forever. WebMD says there's no cure aside from moving home, which I don't have any plans to do any time soon. God says I can't go back yet. Thomas Wolfe says you can't go home again, but I don't trust him any further than I can throw him (which probably isn't far because dead bodies are heavy, I hear).
So, every once in a while I'm going to be sad. I'm going to miss entire Saturdays and Sundays spent on the Redfields' couch watching games. I'll miss the assumed case of Yuengling sitting in Jordan's fridge when the Pirates are on 90% of summer nights. I'll miss the no-nonsense attitude of Pittsburgh sports fans and their hate of everything Philadelphia. Until the Lord calls me home (Pittsburgh, not heaven, although they may not be mutually exclusive), I will do whatever it takes to create a pocket of my life for the black and gold (or blue and gold) to give my sanity some relief every January, March, June, September, and each month in between.
It's not just sports. It's the only life I've known.