By Michael Waterloo
Of The Spirit
In the past 27 years, I've walked through the gates of Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park more than an estimated 450 times.
There's nothing like handing the smiling usher your ticket, getting your program and taking in the view of the freshly-cut field as you go to your seats.
Unfortunately, on Saturday, I may have taken that in for the very last time.
Yes, the rumors are true.
Come May 10, I'll no longer be at The Punxsutawney Spirit.
On May 13th, I'll no longer be in the state of Pennsylvania.
I took a job in Tillamook, Oregon, at a newspaper.
"Why Oregon?," you may ask.
Well, it's a place I've wanted to move to since I was a little kid.
I'm a huge University of Oregon fan (Go Ducks!), I have family out there, I fell in love with it last year when I went there for my cousin's wedding, and the fact that my girlfriend and I, in this economy, could both land a job at the same paper in the same city, was something I had to do.
Now, before I move out there, I knew that there would be a lot of stuff that I had to get done as far as the move was concerned.
But more importantly, there were four things I had to take care of, that I truly dreaded more than anything in my life.
1. Say goodbye to my mother
2. Say goodbye to my brother
3. Visit my stepmom's grave one last time
4. Attend my last baseball game.
On Saturday, I was able to cross two of these tasks off the list, as I stopped by the graveyard to say goodbye to my stepmother, who passed away from cancer on Aug. 4, 2012.
Later that evening, I entered the confines of PNC Park.
Now, obviously, compared to the other three, baseball was the least important task I had to complete.
But, I would be lying if I said I didn't get choked up when the usher scanned my ticket.
"Take it all in, sweetie," said my girlfriend, Blayne.
And I did, too.
The Pirates ended up losing to the Brewers that night, as Ryan Braun spoiled the party with a ninth-inning home run off off Jason Grilli.
But it didn't matter.
No, not in the slightest.
You see, for those nine innings, I watched the game closely, but also caught myself drifting away.
I thought back to all of the summer days I would spend at the ballyard with my dad.
I remember watching Turner Ward record an inside-the-park home run against the Atlanta Braves at Three Rivers Stadium.
I remembered coming home after Jim Leyland got ejected for arguing, and making my stepmom laugh as I mocked him.
I remember my friend Jared taking a foul ball off the face from a ball that Kevin Young hit.
Everyone around him asked if he was OK.
I just couldn't stop laughing.
"Hi, mom. I'm at the Pirates game. Guess what? I just got hit in the face with a ball."
That conversation was joke material for years.
Baseball gets the reputation of being a slow sport, and some casual fans will say that's why they don't like it.
It is slow, and that's just fine by me.
If you've ever listened to a game on the radio, baseball announcers have the gift of storytelling to fill the dead air.
It's still the one sport that I'd sometimes prefer to listen to on the radio, instead of watching on TV.
And in person, whoever you are with, you use that time to fill the dead air.
While the experiences above are ones that I'll always remember, I'll cherish the times I went with my dad and just caught up on life.
Sports are what we've always used to relate to each other, and I loved that relationship growing up.
He taught me how to fill out my first scorecard, the ins and outs of the game, how to properly throw a ball and even let me pretend I was my favorite player in the backyard when we'd play catch for hours at a time.
Then, to celebrate my sister and her husband getting married, they got a suite at PNC Park, which allowed all of us to get together and watch the game, while also socializing with each other.
There's the memory of watching my grandma smile and clap, as she took in her first game in years, all the while remaining a fan of the game.
Memories of riding to the ballpark with my mom and stepdad, who viewed it as more of a treat than a tradition, as we'd make the two-hour trek together to the stadium from New Bethlehem are ones that I'll hold on to.
Seeing my younger brother's face when he gave Jason Kendall a picture when he met him for the first time, only to see it still in his locker a year later when we got on-field passes, made me realize how special the game is to everyone in their own way.
And for the longest time, I was one of the hardcore fans, who endured the 20-straight years of losing.
But then, in 2012, I traded in my fan card for a press pass, as I had an opportunity of a lifetime.
For two years, I got to cover the Pirates, and I did so with no bias, as a true reporter should.
That first day when I got my credentials was honestly one of the happiest days of my life.
Walking up to Andrew McCutchen, nervous as can be, and asking him questions seemed natural.
I've taken that confidence and experience and have applied that to my career right now.
I honestly believe that getting that shot at PNC Park led me to Punxsutawney and, ultimately, Oregon.
Two weeks ago, when Punxsy hosted Williamsport for baseball, Sandy Sloniger came up to me and asked me about the move.
"What about baseball? That's your favorite sport," she said.
It is, without a doubt.
It's not just my favorite sport, it's one of the most important things I have in my life.
The closest professional baseball team to Rockaway Beach, Oregon, where I'll be living, is the Seattle Mariners.
There are three minor league teams within a two-hour drive, but it's not the same.
I'll only be returning home in December of each year — hopefully — so that means trips to PNC Park won't happen anymore.
Seeing the most beautiful view in baseball is now just a thing of the past.
So, for one last time, on Saturday, I put my gold and black Pirates hat back on, and I became a fan.
I snapped photos left and right, I chanted "Let's go Bucs" and I swayed back-and-forth for the seventh-inning stretch.
You can say sports don't mean anything, but in fact, they do.
It's just a game that takes place on the field, but for people like me, it's something we grew up with and we became accustomed to.
I'm not ashamed to say that I fought off tears when I left the stadium that night.
One last time I could hear the ushers say, "Have a good night, and come back soon."
We had a great night, but for this baseball fan, I won't be coming back any time soon.
Alas, the moment had to happen.
Baseball on the west coast just won't be the same.
Now, to continue to put off tasks one and two for as long as humanly possible.