Youngstown has always been the middle of Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans. It gets even more heated when the Browns and Steelers clash, even though the Steelers have been more successful since the Browns’ return in 1999.
But this fall semester has been different, something Youngstown natives have never seen before. The Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoffs together. Are fans leaning more towards baseball right now instead of football?
In this week’s Five for Five, Dr. Adam Earnheardt was asked five questions regarding this unique experience. Earnheardt, a longtime Pittsburgh fan, has studied sports fandom since 2005 and solely on the Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry five years ago.
Q: Obviously, Youngstown is a big Pittsburgh-Cleveland atmosphere, mainly with the Browns and Steelers. How do you feel now with the Pirates and Indians in the playoffs?
A: You’re starting to see a lot more jerseys, hats and emblems all over campus and all around the Mahoning Valley. It’s really similar to the split between the Steelers and Browns where you see kind of an equal number of Indians and Pirates stuff popping up all over town. That’s consistent with what we see basking in the glow of these championship teams, these winning teams. When your team’s winning, you’re more apt to go out and wear those jerseys and those hats.
Q: Did you know that there were these many baseball fans around here?
A: I did not. You know, I still think there aren’t that many baseball fans around here. I think it’s more of celebration of identity, the connection of a geographical area. People that are from Youngstown either feel a slight pull towards Cleveland or Pittsburgh, and they want to celebrate that. There’s no better way to celebrate that than through the success of a baseball team or a football team.
Q: Being a Pittsburgh fan and with the Steelers off to a 0-4 start, for now at least, do you feel it’s more of a baseball community than football?
A: Yeah, it’s something to kind of hang your hat on. There are certainly a whole lot more people out there saying ‘argh’ and using their pirate speech than they are talking about the Steel Curtain. But, that said, I think for now, it’s still a football town. The reason why I say that is, you still see just as many people complaining about the Steelers being 0-4 as you do people talking about the chance for a pennant race or a run for the World Series in Pirate nation.
Q: From the Cleveland side, the Indians just clinched, the Browns are on a two-game winning streak, are you seeing equal with Browns and Indians talk or more with the Indians because they are in the playoffs?
A: I don’t think Cleveland fans know what to do with themselves. There’s all of this good news to celebrate and all of this bad news to talk about in Pittsburgh. It’s like they can go out and celebrate the race for the Cleveland Indians and the moderately successful start for the Browns. And at the same time, they get to revel in the demise of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I think there’s a lot more enjoyment for the Cleveland fans than there has been in a long time.
Q: If, somehow, there’s a Pirates-Indians World Series, what do you think that’s going to do for Youngstown or just around the area in general?
A: I think it’s going to draw a lot of media attention here because this is really the point, the meeting in the middle, of Indians and Pirates fans. Unfortunately for me, I love the Cleveland Indians, and I love the Pittsburgh Pirates. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Talk about a cognitive distance. I don’t know what I would do if those two go to the World Series, but that’s what I want. So, I think in this area, you’ll see a lot more attention on looking at the dichotomy of the fan ship in this area. I think you’ll see a whole lot of more people out at the sports bars, watching baseball instead of football, which is weird for this time of year around here.