For me, baseball was a connection to family. Growing up in Pittsburgh, almost my entire extended family still lived nearby and we were all Pirates fans. Baseball crossed gender, ethnicity (for the most part - once African-Americans and Latinos were accepted into the game), and class. My two childhood heroes were a Puerto Rican and an African-American. My love for Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell was shared by ALL the kids my age in Pittsburgh. And all the fathers. And mothers. And aunts and uncles.
Baseball was a connection to more then immediate family. It crossed generations. Grandparents and great-grandparents - who all lived where you lived - supported the same team, even if the players were different. It was a shared identity - and one that still defines a lot of people today.
In Dave's estimation, the Pirates position as a cultural touchstone began its decline around the same time the exodus from Pittsburgh went full throttle. There are a number of reasons as to why interest in the Pirates waned, but the main one concerns how well the team has played. As the losses mounted, the Pirates Diaspora disappeared into Steelers Nation.
The success of many place-centric social networks depends on the fortunes of a sports team. If a college football team struggles to recruit top talent, alumni donations to a university will suffer. Fans will stop gathering in the sports bars across the country and people will stop connecting. Not only is there a real financial cost to a poorly run program or franchise, accrued social capital also takes a hit. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh is still waiting for a return on its investment in the ballpark, while the region continues to show little interest in cashing out on the Steelers success.