Ah, my friends, thanks for taking this journey with me. The story is almost over, so sit down and enjoy!
Okay, so now I was part of the family. Mike had said so, and Mike, being the oldest of the Joe Clan, was the boss.
As the years progressed, anytime we were in Y-Town the men of the Joe Clan sought me out, swept me up, and sucked me in for the entire time we were there. I'd be lying if I said that this was with Joe's blessing. The problem was that Joe recognized that I was bonding with his brothers more than I ever bonded with him. A problem, I realize, but just for the record, I did attempt to bond with Joe in other ways (besides the obvious). Joe had his issues with his family, but they were his issues, not mine. I felt I could be a supportive wife without being an enabler. I truly enjoyed my interactions with the Joe Clan, and thought that if I became close with his Joe's family, he would as well. That didn't materialize, but I grew to look forward to our trips to Y-Town nonetheless.
The Joe Clan and I watched Pirates games (my one issue with Pittsburgh teams, as the Pirates are in the same division as my Cubs), Steelers games, and Pens games. We debated the effect of the stadium on the fans and the team playing there (I could never understand how someone felt that a baseball field could be effectively converted to a football field, and how you could enjoy a game in person if you couldn't see the action). They dragged me to Three Rivers Stadium to prove their point, which was that the stadium didn't matter.
Sitting up in Peanut Heaven, hoping that I didn't get a nose bleed from the altitude, I laughed in their faces. "I can't even READ the batter's uniform number from here," I said. "You come to Chicago, we'll go to Wrigley, and then you'll know what a real stadium is like," I proffered. They came up three weeks later, and I treated them to a game in the bleachers at Wrigley. They grudgingly acknowledged that I was right--Three Rivers sucked as a baseball park.
Later that year, we went and froze our behinds off at Three Rivers to prove that it was a good football venue. I laughed again, bought Bears tickets from a ridiculously priced "broker", and dragged them to a Bears game at a real stadium, Solider Field. Again, they reluctantly agreed that Three Rivers sucked. We watched from across the river in February 2001 when Three Rivers came down. There was more than one tear in the Joe Clan's eyes, and I consoled them and said, "Trust me. This is for the best."
The Pittsburgh Civic Center (now Mellon Arena) is at least was passable as a hockey arena. It has its problems-renovations and additions through the years seemed to have been stuck on randomly, not obeying any architectural standards whatsoever. It still beats the replacement for the Chicago Stadium (the United Center) any day of the week.
All of these experiences had an unforeseen, but entirely welcome, side effect. While I had always been a sports fan, I'll admit that I was a bit ethnocentric in my fandom. I didn't even entertain the thought that there could be other teams outside of Chicago that were worth watching. My exposure to the Pittsburgh teams changed that outlook. I began to enjoy sports on another level--I grew to appreciate the game, and the individual athletes that made up the teams--and somewhere along the way became a more enlightened sports fan. It was at that point that I truly became a member of the family--the FanGeek family.
That chilly day in February 2001 was a truly metaphorical day in my life. I didn't know it then, as I watched Three Rivers implode, but my marriage would soon do the same. Before Easter of that year, I would be separated from Joe. I wouldn't share any more bonding experiences with the Joe Clan. They rallied and circled the wagons to support their flesh and blood, and I don't blame them or have any animosity toward them. Blood is blood, after all. I do regret that we never got to see a game together in PNC Park, or Heinz Field. I still haven't seen a game at either one of those venues, although I am dying to do so. Every summer, I try to make plans to fly to Pittsburgh to see a game, but some other obligation always seems to get in the way. Every fall, I make the same plans, but life always seems to run interference. I am close, however, to fortifying my defensive line and overpowering that interference. I'm making forward progress.
It may seem strange to say this, but I don't regret my marriage. First and foremost, I wouldn't have my son without Joe. Yes, the circumstances were not ideal, but my son wouldn't be who he is if he wasn't Joe's son, too. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't married Joe. I wouldn't have expanded my world, changed some perceptions, and grown as a person. Yes, sports are a pleasurable pastime, unimportant in the bigger picture of Life. But I won't apologize for my Fandom. My fandom was the vehicle for a lot of my personal growth--the Escalade that chauffeured me over some rough highways.
The journey just wouldn't have been the same in a Yugo.