A Pittsburgh native, I became a Pirates fan in exile when I took a teaching position in the Department of English at SIU in 1969.

My timing couldn’t have been worse because the Pirates were about to embark on one of the best decades in their baseball history, including six division championships, two National League pennants, and two dramatic World Series victories in 1971 and 1979.

Being surrounded by St. Louis Cardinals fans wasn’t a problem in the 1970s. While the Pirates were winning divisions, pennants and World Series, the Cardinals struggled and reached their low point in 1976 when they finished 72-90, their worst year since 1955, and fired popular manager Red Schoendienst.

In the 1980s, the Pirates and the Cardinals went through a reversal of fortune. Once the Cardinals hired Whitey Herzog and traded for Ozzie Smith, they went on to win three National League pennants and a World Series championship. While the Cardinals were playing “Whitey Ball,” the Pirates sank into baseball’s lower depths and, by mid-decade, were on the verge of moving to another city.

By the end of the decade, the Pirates, led by former Cardinal Andy Van Slyke and a pre-steroid Barry Bonds, started playing winning baseball again and won three division titles from 1990 to 1992. In 1990, with his Cardinals floundering in last place, Whitey Herzog decided that his job wasn’t fun anymore and resigned as the Cardinals’ manager. They wouldn’t win another division title until Tony La Russa was hired in 1996.

After the Pirates won three straight division crowns in the early 1990s, they went on a losing binge that lasted a record-breaking 20 years. Only the construction of PNC Park saved them from becoming the Carolina Pirates. Under La Russa, the Cardinals won eight division titles, three National League pennants, and two World Series. He retired after the 2011 championship season.

During the 44 baseball seasons that I’ve lived in Southern Illinois, there’s never been much of a rivalry between the Pirates and the Cardinals because they’ve rarely had good teams at the same time. Because they play in the same division, I’ve seen lots of games between the Pirates and the Cardinals, but never a playoff game or a game critical to the fortunes of both teams.

All that changed this season when the Pirates finally ended their 20-year losing streak and made it into the playoffs as a wild card team. When they defeated the Reds in a one-game wild-card playoff, they headed to St. Louis for the first round of the National League Championship Series.

During the 2013 season, Cardinals fans in our area, like many baseball fans around the country, took a fancy to my improbable Pirates. They’d tell me they were rooting for the Pirates as long as my hometown team didn’t meet the Cardinals in the playoffs.

Living in the middle of Cardinal Nation, I felt like Custer at Little Big Horn when the playoffs started and the Cardinals slaughtered the Pirates in the opening game at Busch Stadium. When the Pirates easily won the second game and tied the series, I decided to come out of hiding.

The next two games were the stuff of baseball classics. The Pirates and Cardinals split two nail-biting games in Pittsburgh and headed for St. Louis for the fifth and deciding game. Happily for Cardinals fans, their favorite team played up to its winning tradition and handily defeated the upstart Pirates. It was a great season for my favorite team, but there was no joy in Pittsburgh when the mighty Alvarez struck out to end the game.

I’ve always believed that Pittsburgh, like St. Louis, is a great baseball town and this season proved it — for both cities. So I’m happy for Cardinals fans, but I’ll be waiting for next year. As for my wife, Anita, after watching her husband’s mood swings and anxiety attacks while rooting for the Pirates, she hopes that next year takes its time.

RICHARD ‘PETE’ PETERSON is the commentator for the Reading Baseball series on WSIU-FM. He is the editor of The Pirates Reader and The St. Louis Baseball Reader.

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