Is this a great country or what?

It is time once more to ask the eternal question: Is this a great country or what? Yes, it’s a great country, and in this great country the pursuit of happiness takes many forms and sometimes it all comes together in one great starburst amid the rocket’s red glare.

What has my spirits soaring today is the arrival of that certain promise of summer, the start of the Major League Baseball season. But that is not all of it. The Pittsburgh Pirates, a storied franchise, although lately the story has been about 15 consecutive losing seasons, has something to buck up the dropping Bucs faithful and a salivating nation. I refer to the following news item from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “The Pirates will offer 168 All-You-Can-Eat seats in section 147 in right field near the foul pole but could expand it to other sections in the same area depending on demand.”

What you have here is two national pastimes joined in a marriage made in peanut heaven — baseball and eating. Fans are promised all the hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, salads, popcorn, peanuts, ice cream and soda they can handle for one low price, which will be $35 to $40 a seat, depending on time of purchase. The offer is available Sunday through Thursday.

The inclusion of salad is a masterstroke. It is a statement that the Bucs are all about health. There’s nothing that the peckish fan needs more after digesting multiple hot dogs, several burgers, popcorn and nachos than a good salad. I wonder if you can get fries with that.

As a special bonus, a refreshment stand will be exclusively dedicated to all-you-can eaters, ensuring a “speed line approach,” according to the Pirates Web site. This will be a blessing, as it will stop large people jostling each other and triggering small seismic tremors that could throw the Pirates pitchers off their deliveries, which has been known to happen for lesser reasons.

Well, I don’t know about you, but my head is full of traditional baseball ditties, for example, the old favorite sung during the Seventh Inning Stretch, henceforth to be known as the Seventh Inning Burp, in Section 147 at PNC Park.

(ital) Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the obese.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I ever get fat, Let me eat, eat, eat for the home team, If we don’t burst it’s a shame.

For it’s one, two, three burgers, you’re in, At the old ball game. (endital)

Yes, this offer gives new meaning to what baseball fans know as home plate.

I also fear some rewriting of the famous “Casey at the Bat”:

(ital) Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.

And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout but there is no joy in Pittsburgh, mighty Casey has struck out with the nachos. (endital)

Some of you will accuse me of being a spoilsport for making light of good-hearted, albeit artery-clogged, fans in pursuit of their own happiness via unlimited foodstuffs.

But I am in no position to feel superior to anyone. I am a Pirates fan and I am a little heavy amidships. I am just teasing if I make fun of the Bucs just because Davy Jones’ locker turns out to be full of hot dogs.

I went to opening day and had a wonderful time. The all-you-can-eat seating had not yet started, so the pressure was on all of us to show the visiting Chicago Cubs and their fans that we would not come off second-best at the concession stands.

I favored the famous Primanti Brothers sandwich with the fries and slaw right on it — not exactly diet fare. But it was all good and I got excellent service, especially from the mortgage broker who arranged a quick loan so I could buy a beer at stadium prices.

In fairness, all-you-can-eat seating is a trend sweeping stadiums across the nation. And it’s not just sports venues: Vegas is one big all-you-can-eat experience and cruise ships list when the provisions for midnight banquets shift in their holds.

But when huge appetites come to athletic events, something is not quite right with the universe. If it has come to this, it is never going to end. Nothing is going to end. Americans will go on digging their graves with their teeth, the deficit will keep soaring, a Clinton or a Bush will always be in politics and we will be in Iraq for 100 years.

It is shocking, I know, for a Pirates fan to be pessimistic, but there you have it. It is a hard thing to be fat and happy.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail