He threw high and tight.
And then Batman threw out the first pitch.
It was my first (and only) home opener as the Pirates beat reporter for the Tribune-Review, and it made for the most awe-inspiring moment of a fairly unforgettable 2006. After all, that was the year during which I twice turned tongue tied while meeting Mick Jagger, shared a bit too much information with Alyssa Milano and tried to jump onto a moving SUV transporting Mario Lemieux – and each of those occurrences happened while I was working. But nothing topped the Pirates’ home opener at PNC Park, and my rock god, teenage fantasy and childhood hockey hero ended up having nothing on Michael Keaton.
They still don’t, especially not after Keaton’s Golden Globes moment on Sunday night.
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It was a seemingly perfect pairing.
The Pirates had invited Keaton to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The franchise was starting a new era with a new manager, but it lacked buzz compared to Pittsburgh’s other pro teams. Ben Roethlisberger had just led the Steelers to their long-awaited “one for the thumb.” Sidney Crosby was several months into turning citizens back onto the Penguins. The Pirates had been losers since 1993, and their biggest draw (Jason Bay) was likeable, but hardly a marquee attraction.
Neither was Keaton at that point. At least, he certainly was not on Hollywood’s A List. He had been Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice and Batman, but he upon arriving at the ballpark on that sunny day, Keaton was mostly talked about as a Pittsburgh who had made it big.
He was a Pittsburgher, though. And he made that clear, much to the horror of many within the Pirates organization.
Sitting at a table in a room reserved for interviews, Keaton happily took questions from members of the local media. Near the back rows sat Pirates employees. Their smiles were wide and unmistakable at the beginning. I remember looking at Joe Rutter, from whom I had inherited the beat, and rolling my eyes. A Keaton fan, because I’m a Pittsburgher and because I’m a proper thinking American, I was pleased to take in the moment – but it surely felt like a waste of my time on a busy day.
Then, in response to a question that I honestly cannot remember, Keaton pretty much ended what would become a gruesome Pirates season.
“I fear they will take advantage of the good will of the people who continue to show up,” Keaton said of Pirates ownership. “For my money, that’s disrespectful. At some point, you have to write the check.”
Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!
Nope, that was still Keaton sitting at that table.
Joe could not keep from offering a throat-clearing “Wow.” I buried my face in my right hand to hide my laughter. Joe Starkey, then a full-time Trib columnist, alerted both of us to the back rows, where Pirates employees’ smiles had turned to sneers. The room actually felt cooler than it had when the news conference started.
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There were too many.
However, of the many maddening moments from the Pirates’ 20 consecutive losing seasons, Keaton – inarguably their most famous fan – laying waste to their way of doing business before throwing out the first pitch at the home opener ranks as the most unforgettable. And I think I know why.
He was speaking for Pittsburghers. That’s what it felt like.
Keaton seemed sick of the losing, sick of the small-market excuses, sick of everything. He was back where he belonged, back home, and it was as though he simply could not let down fans that felt their voices were never heard by ownership. He was the fan with the loudest voice, and he used it to drop a cannon ball on the captain’s quarters of the Good Ship Jolly Roger that had docked on the banks of the Allegheny River.
That season (and six more) would pass before the Pirates became winners again. When they did, Keaton made sure everybody knew just how big of a deal his Pirates were to Pittsburghers around the world.
On Sunday night, an emotional Keaton was honored at the Golden Globe Awards for his virtuoso performance in “Birdman.” It is the role of a lifetime for the first silver screen Batman, and I hope it delivers him more awards, including an Oscar.
And, yes, I’m rooting for Keaton to clean up during the Hollywood awards season because he is a Pittsburgh, and right now he is a Pittsburgher who is making it big again.
The Pirates should bring him back for the first pitch to their upcoming home opener. He might be their best fan because of what he said seven years ago. Plus, coming off two consecutive postseason appearances and an offseason that featured spending by ownership, the Pirates are undeniably back.
Just like Michael John Douglas from Forest Grove.
Because, with all due respect to Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck (and A.J. Burnett), Michael Keaton is Batman.