Last year when the first #PNCBLACKOUT campaign rolled around, I was a bit skeptical of how it would work out. I figured the crowd would be amped up, but I don’t think anyone was expecting what actually happened.
A few hours before the game, I exited PNC to go outside to do a radio interview. What I saw was just a preview of that night. Federal Street was packed, due to thousands of people coming over the Clemente Bridge. It rivaled walking through Rockefeller Center a few days before Christmas. You’re just walking down the street, everything seems normal, then you turn a corner and suddenly you’re swimming through people, just trying to move five feet.
Then the fans started pouring in the park. They were loud. They cheered everything. They waved their Jolly Rogers, and gave thunderous ovations to every player that was announced in the pre-game ceremony. There was a “Let’s Go Bucs” chant almost half an hour before the game even started. They sang along with Andrew McCutchen’s mom during the National Anthem.
I looked up at the TV in the press box during the intros, when every Pirates player got the biggest cheer of his life, and every Reds player got the biggest boo (most notably with Aroldis Chapman and Dusty Baker). I expected to see the scene on the broadcast. Instead, what I saw was Pedro Martinez offering up analysis.
At the time I thought that there was nothing Martinez could have said that would have been better than just showing the atmosphere at PNC Park. There was no sound on the TVs, and I don’t think anyone would have been able to hear it if there was. But unless Pedro said “The fans are going to go crazy tonight, make Johnny Cueto drop a ball, then give up a home run to Russell Martin on the very next pitch. MARK IT DOWN!”, then there was no need for the analysis.
I bring this up now because over the next two days, MLB will have some amazing playoff atmospheres. The AL Wild Card game will be hosted in Kansas City. By the Royals. A team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1985. Here were some other things that happened in 1985:
**Compact Discs were released. No one even uses those anymore.
**Windows 1.0 was released.
**Back to the Future was released. We’re a year away from living in the future described in the sequel.
**22 members of the current Royals active roster (the September expanded version) weren’t even born yet.
I’m going to just take a guess that the crowd in Kansas City is going to be insane.
As for the Pirates, we saw what happened last year. The Pirates are calling for another #PNCBLACKOUT this year. And this time around, we know what to expect.
So here is my advice to TBS and ESPN this year (not that I think their producers will be reading this): Just show the crowd. There’s no need for pointless studio analysis at that stage in the pre-game. You don’t even need to talk over the crowd shots. It can just be a live feed of the stadium. There will be thousands of fans going crazy in Kansas City and Pittsburgh the next two nights. There will be millions of fans watching at home, also going crazy, and I know they will want to see the scene inside of the stadium, rather than the same old pre-game analysis that never really offers up anything substantial.
As we saw last year, a fan base that has been starved for a playoff appearance can become the story of the game, and can impact the game. Hopefully, Royals and Pirates fans at home will get to see some of this during the next two nights.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.