With the Pirates clinching their first winning season since 1992, coming off an impressive (if somewhat stressful) sweep at Texas, and battling the Cardinals & Reds for the National League Central division title, I thought Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke (or WHYGAVS) would be the perfect person for this edition of the Pittsburgh Sports Blogger Interview Series.
When and why did you start WHYGAVS (and yes, I realize that you already addressed this in the "About WHYGAVS" section of your blog)?
WHYGAVS started in a dorm room on Duquesne's campus in 2005. The short story is that when baseball started that year, I could never find enough people around campus to talk to baseball about, and I started putting these long updates about the team in my AIM profile (Facebook was still thefacebook at the time, which, sheesh), and that seemed dumb. I got the idea to start a blog so that I could put all of my ideas in one place. It didn't hurt that I think I was probably putting off Organic Chemistry homework at the time. I decided I'd rather spend time writing about the 2005 Pirates than studying for O-Chem. That should give you an idea of how much I liked that class.
While you've written that Andy Van Slyke was your favorite player, was there ever any considering of naming the site after another player like Doug Drabek, Orlando Merced or RJ Reynolds?
Not at all, actually. I barely spent any time on the name when I started the blog. I sat down and set it all up on Blogger, looked at the empty box where the name would go, and "Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?" popped right into my head. That just felt right, so I went with it. No baseball player can ever replace your favorite player from when you were seven, you know? That's sort of what I was going for with the name and I think that it captures it nicely, even if it's a little bit long and unwieldy.
Have you received any response from Andy Van Slyke about your blog/blog name?
Not directly, no. Dave Brown, who blogs for Yahoo!'s Big League Stew blog, once asked him [about] the site. Since I sponsor the Baseball Reference page and everything, it's not like I'm hiding from him, but I've never had any contact with him. Honestly, I've always been a little worried that he probably thinks I'm some kind of weirdo stalker. Can't trust those people on the internet, man.
I believe that I've seen your posts, or at least your blog name, referenced by ESPN.com, Jonah Keri of Grantland and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Do you have a post or moment that you're most proud of?
I don't want to downplay any of the accolades the site has received, because I really do geek out every time I see a link on Grantland or Deadspin or in a local paper, but I'm not sure any of that is what I'm most proud of. I didn't set out to rack up a huge audience or become famous or to get a bigger or better writing gig. I only ever wanted to talk about baseball and write about what it was like to be a Pirate fan. When I first started blogging, I did it partially because I just felt like I didn't know any Pirate fans at Duquesne that I could talk to about the team. Within the first year, I'd interacted with people from all over the country and I started to understand just how many Pirate fans there really were. Suddenly realizing that being a Pirate fan wasn't something that had to happen on an island changed my perspective on the team quite a bit. Last night, when the Pirates clinched their first winning season since 1992, I didn't get my post finished until midnight and as soon as I posted it and tweeted the link out, I could see visitors streaming into the site and retweets piling up and I realized that people had been staying up late, waiting for my post to finish. The thought that I've been able to take that feeling of community that I first got when I started my blog and share it with so many people is something that is really, really meaningful to me.
After 20 years of losing seasons and 8 years of WHYGAVS, have you found this season and the playoff chase rewarding?
Yes! One of the weird and difficult things about being a Pirate fan is that everything has always had to be filtered through what it meant for the future. Garrett Jones had an amazing rookie year in 2009, but it was hard to enjoy because there was no way of knowing back then if he was capable of doing it in a season in which it would matter. The same thing went for Neil Walker in 2010. Being able to watch these games and enjoy them in the moment and not have to worry about 2014 or 2015 or 2016, really, it's just so much better than the way things happened in the past. I mean, that's obvious to everyone. I'm just reveling in the moment now, you know?
As a full-time graduate students living outside Western Pennsylvania, do you find it difficult to follow the Pirates and write about the team?
Not at all; I suppose I'm pretty fortunate to be living in 2013. Since I've moved, I've always had the MLB.tv package, so seeing the games hasn't been a problem. With the rise of Twitter, literally all I have to do is open up my computer and I can watch the game and talk about it with a ton of Pirate fans. It's incredible.
You are the Pirates manager. (Congratulations!) In the 8th inning with the Pirates down one, PH Travis Snider is on 1st with no outs and lead-off hitter Starling Marte at the plate. What do you do? What would Clint Hurdle do?
Let him swing away! I'm usually too hard on Clint Hurdle and I'm happy to admit that I am, but geez, Marte's legitimately the second best hitter on the team when he's healthy. Let him drive a ball into the gap and send Snider home, so long as he doesn't have to wear his oven-mitt. I think Hurdle would agree.
You are extremely active on Twitter. Do you feel that this takes time away from your blog or enhances your blog (or both)?
I went back and forth on this a lot in the early days of Twitter. I was worried at first that it was hurting my blog, but to be honest, building a devoted Twitter following has made my life as a blogger much easier. I know that even if I have to take a couple of days off from the site for whatever reason, all I have to do is write something up and post it on Twitter and it will find an audience right away. Part of that's a necessary evolution from being in grad school; I don't have time to post seven times a day with every bit of news that breaks, but I can always fire off a few tweets to keep everyone up to date and then put together a longer commentary post when I have time. Really, I think that the important thing
Finally, what is your overall prediction for the Pirates this season? (Win the division? Go to the NLCS?)
I have no idea, and isn't that kind of the best part of it? I will say that there's legitimately enough talent on the Pirates to make a real run at things if everyone clicks at the right time once the playoffs start; after Gerrit Cole's start on Monday we can say that they have four starters capable of taking over games, with Tony Watson's emergence and Jason Grilli's return the bullpen is getting back to the point it was earlier in the year. The lineup is much different with Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau in it, and if Starling Marte can get healthy by the end of the season I think they'll be awfully dangerous. It's possible that they'll make the wild card game, flame out, and that'll be that, or that they'll run into a buzzsaw of a Dodger team and be done in three quick games, but I don't think that's necessarily a given. They're a well-constructed team with some great pitchers and some very good hitters. Just getting to the playoffs gives them a fighting chance. As a Pirate fan, I'm having a hard time thinking logically beyond that at this point. I suppose now that 82 is behind us, it's time to actually start thinking about the playoffs.
Thanks to Pat for taking the time to answer these questions particularly when he's busy putting together regular blog posts as the Pirates play meaningful September baseball for the first time since I was in high school. (I'm not counting 1997.) Make sure you read WHYGAVS early and often and follow Pat on Twitter.