The surprising Pittsburgh Pirates have already made this a memorable summer for their fans.
With a late rally in the National League Central, they also can make it an extremely profitable season for two of their biggest believers.
On Opening Day, Brandon Crusan, a Pittsburgh native and lifelong Pirates fan, placed a $50 bet at +100,000 (1000/1) on the Bucs to win the division. That’s a $50,000 payday.
“Overall, I felt that we were in the worst division in baseball; so why not throw 50 on my Buccos?” Crusan, a sales manager in Mt. Washington, Pa., wrote in an email. “I mean we have to turn it around sometime right?”
Poker pro Mike McNeil, a Pirates season-ticket holder since 2007, also backed Pittsburgh financially. He made two wagers on the Pirates to win what at least to this point has been a wide-open division.
On April 4, McNeil dropped a $100 on Pittsburgh to win the division at +1,000 (100-1). But it’s the second “homer” bet that has this longtime Bucs’ fan pulling for his team more than he ever has.
In mid-June, McNeil was hanging out in the Las Vegas house he shares with other poker pros during the World Series of Poker when something on his laptop caught his attention.
His Pirates, who had just swept the Astros to climb above .500 and move within a couple games of the division lead, were listed at 80-1 to win the Central at his offshore sportsbook.
McNeil scrambled to add funds to his account, but had bank transfer issues. That’s when one of McNeil’s poker buddies stepped in.
“He likes to play the bank if he thinks he has an edge and agreed to book my action, one grand at 80-1,” said McNeil.
The gambler who took McNeil’s bet asked to remain anonymous, but did confirm to Covers.com via email that the bet was good. He is a regular player at the high-stakes poker games in Vegas.
"We made small ($50-200) wagers on lots of stuff this summer from MLB games to video games to the song game," said Gambler X. "Many times, if I owed Mike $200 for example, I'd needle him by saying "you owe me 800 now [on the Pirates].'"
“We gamble on a lot of things," added McNeil, "but nothing quite like this,”
There are a few Vegas bookmakers sweating the Pirates as well, including Caesars line consultant Todd Furhman, who took some $25 wagers at 150/1 on Pittsburgh to win the World Series.
“We do have exposure on the Pirates,” Furhman wrote in an email, “and I'm inclined to believe every book around town will be in a similar predicament if the Buccos get through considering the prices that were out there at one point.
“The scenario remind me of a few years back when a lot of people in town had high exposure to the Rays when they went all the way to the series before losing to the Phils.”
The books’ fear of the Pirates is dwindling, however. Heading into the August, Pittsburgh had lost three straight to fall 4.5 games behind Milwaukee in the division.
It will help if Pittsburgh doesn’t have too many more run ins with umpire Jerry Meals, who admitted to making a bad game-deciding call in the Pirates’ recent 19-inning loss to the Braves.
“It felt like it a punch in the stomach,” said McNeil, who watched all 19 innings in a New York City bar. “My buddy has agreed to work something out if the Pirates end up losing the division by that one game.”