Thursday morning, I pulled out the razor and did what I knew was coming — though I was hoping to put it off for a longer portion of this month — I shaved off my playoff beard.
To be fair, I had "cheated" and shaved off my mustache and the underbelly of my beard earlier and oftener than I'd let on I would — but I decided even playoff beards aren't worth looking creepy over.
Besides, Abe Lincoln didn't have a mustache or an underbeard, and everyone knows that dude still rocked the beard.
But, with my favorite team out of contention for the World Series championship, I knew that my time had come, and so, I did it. I shaved off my curly, way-too-untrimmed beard, and as each blade fell from my smooth-as-a-baby's-bottom face, I was surprised.
I was darn positive that this would be a day of mourning for me. I had said all along that I'd be content that we'd just had a winning season — like I'd asked for — and while I admit that I was just a bit bummed that this turn of fate wasn't one of those miracle stories where we win it all, I wasn't disappointed at all.
With each stroke of the razor blade through the coarse beard hair, I could have shed a tear — if I was the crying type; think of it figuratively — but instead, I was beaming with joy. And, I wasn't the only one.
My former Old Testament professor — who has often expressed his loving dedication to his "beloved Buccos" posted this on his social media site: "It is October, and once again, Pirates fans are saying, 'Wait'll next year!' But this year, our tone is not angrily defensive, but eager, expectant, and confident. Thank you, Bucs, for a great year! I vote Clint Hurdle for manager of the year."
He and I weren't the only two in the mood to show thanks — #thankyoupirates was trending shortly after the loss and elimination became official.
I was never of the ilk that thought it appropriate to thank these professional athletes for what they do to inspire their fan bases. After all, they're just doing their job, right? And, I always felt, they are lucky to be playing a child's game to make a living.
But, when I'm honest with myself, that doesn't make sense on at least two separate fronts.
First of all, when I write a column or a story, it's a part of my job. But that doesn't make it any less reasonable for someone to thank me for doing so or to show their appreciation for what I wrote.
It wouldn't make any sense for me to not thank the waitress for her good service or the bank teller for handling my money so well just because it's part of his or her job. So, why should athletes be any different?
But in addition to that is the second fact: That I've seen sports motivate and inspire, and motivation and inspiration are two things to be thankful for.
Now, it goes the other way, too. This season for the Pirates brought oodles of hope for a bright future, while just across the parking lot, the Steelers are off to an 0-4 start, and if we're honest with ourselves, the future there looks a bit dim.
Sports really can affect us. They can affect our moods, our attitudes and our gratitudes.
When the Steelers lose, I can be a bit crankier, and when the Penguins pull off another victory — at least there's still promise in one season, right? — I'll probably be a bit more likely to look on the bright side.
But I'm starting to like this mood of thankfulness that follows an outstanding effort — as the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates offered their fans.
The 2013 season left a lot to be desired. There are still four other teams vying for that coveted trophy and the champagne bath/bash that goes with it in the clubhouse. There will be no parade in Pittsburgh to honor a World Series champ.
But, there is hope! And hope is certainly something to be thankful for — especially after waiting since 1992 to see even a glimmer of it unfold over the past few years. Hope came to fruition with a winning season and a playoff run. How beautiful! "Not angrily defensive, but eager, expectant and confident."
So, as I shaved off the extended stubble and went all baby-faced until my standard goatee pattern grows back in a few weeks, with each clip of the razor, I could hear my soul rejoicing, shouting excitedly, "Thank you!"
OK, so that's a bit of what we call an "over-dramatization" here in the business, but hey, it's an opinion piece, right?
Thankfulness is a good thing, no matter what inspires it, because good things bring it about: Hope for a brighter future, the joy of a winning season and freedom from images of Sid Bream sliding safely into home plate — OK that one still stings, just a bit. I mean, come on Barry Bonds. Even I could have thrown him out!
I know none of the Pittsburgh Pirates will ever likely read this, but that doesn't mean I'm not thankful.
I just hope the members of that team realize just how much this area — not just their city, but an entire fan base — needed this.
Thank you 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates for a stellar season. And let's go Bucs.
Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and a die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fan — a thankful one.