His most prized Pittsburgh Pirates possession is a 1971 pennant recognizing the team's World Series championship.

Other than that, James Smolko's Pirates collection consists of two hats: one black and one yellow.

"I've had T-shirts off and on. Right now I don't have any Pirate paraphernalia other than the hats. I've reduced it to the hats. That's pretty much my choice, I guess," Smolko said last week when showing off the items in his two-story Springettsbury Township home.

Then again, it makes sense Smolko, 77, has gotten rid of nearly all of his Buccos gear over the years, given the team's dreadful performances the previous two decades. There's not much to brag about when your favorite team is awful (right, Phillies fans?).

Lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan Dr. James Smolko displays his Pirates paraphernalia at his Springettsbury Township home.
Lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan Dr. James Smolko displays his Pirates paraphernalia at his Springettsbury Township home. (Bill Kalina)

"That's probably part of it," Smolko said. "It got to be painful to be a fan. Even when they're winning it's still tough to be a Pirate fan. Even now, they've clinched a playoff spot but they let the Cubs beat them today. You live and die with this stuff."

No. This isn't about a player, coach, front-office person, team trainer or bat boy. Rather, it's about the actual person who players say they play for: the sports fan. In particular, a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates who happens to live in York.

"I'm one of a rare breed around here. There aren't many Pirates fans around here," Smolko said. "A lot of my friends are Orioles or Phillies fans."

And in this unusual season, Smolko has been the one among his group of friends who's been able to speak positively when the subject of baseball is broached.

It's an unusual season for the simple fact the Pirates last week clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 1992. The Bucs will host Cincinnati in the National League one-game wild-card playoff Tuesday night. The winner will move on to face St. Louis in a best-of-5 divisional series.

"It's a big deal. It regenerates the city. Pittsburgh is really going with this thing," Smolko said.

Now retired for 12 years following a 30-year career of working for Anesthesia Associates of York, Dr. Smolko's Pirates' fandom dates back to his childhood days of growing up in western Pennsylvania in the 1940s and 1950s, when Smolko said tickets at Forbes Field would go for "a couple bucks."

"I lived in a coal-mining town that surrounded that area. My dad was a coal miner. About once a year we'd go to a Pirate game. That's when they had Ralph Kiner," said Smolko, who is also a Vietnam War veteran.

Other than the once-a-year trek to a game, Smolko and his dad would get their Pirates info by listening on a radio in the living room of their home. The setting brings about a certain mystique when compared to how we consume today's sporting events. But it was those early years as a Pirates fan that perhaps prepared Smolko for the last 20 seasons. At 10-years-old in 1946, Smolko endured 10 below-.500 seasons of Pirates baseball over the next 11 years.

"Well, in those days I don't know if we (my dad and I) were focused on winning or losing. We just liked to listen to the games and things like that," Smolko said.

On the golf course with friends over the years, Smolko has shied away from expressing his support of the Pirates. His Pittsburgh cache would instead stay at home collecting dust. In this unique season, though, Smolko's black or yellow hats have been in use around the clock.

"Yeah, I wear my Pirate hat all the time now," he said.

-- Reach John Walk at jwalk@yorkdispatch.com.