There are many things that make the United States unique. Some of it has to do with our isolation from so much of the rest of the world, but even that doesn’t explain everything. The rest of the world loves their football, what we call soccer, but we love our baseball. In North America the only real difference between the US and Canada is a slightly different set of priorities when it comes to fishing and hockey. Canadians love to fish because, well, because there isn’t much else to do I guess. And while they are hopelessly obsessed with pucks and Zambonis, here on the southern side of the border we love leather bound gloves and triangular fields of closely trimmed grass, framed precisely at 90° with lines of chalk.
Why? Who knows. The heart wants what the heart wants. Americans also seem strangely obsessed with Justin Beiber, corn syrup and dozens of shows about over-tanned housewives acting like inebriated tramps, so our proclivities are not so easily explained. There are thousands of books (literally) written on America’s love affair with baseball and all of them would do a better job encapsulating or explaining our love of a child’s game than I could. Despite the players and per-eminent league’s best efforts, we love then game anyway.
Despite MLB’s inability to update an outdated game with the latest technology, we love the game. (Because getting the call WRONG is part of the charm of the sport. Seriously, that’s the reason people give against instant replay. Unbelievable) Hell they can’t even figure out how to run their own all-star game. Up until this year they had 30 teams split unevenly into two leagues. The commissioner himself thought 14 and 16 made perfect sense. And lets not even talk about the Designated Hitter….
We love the game despite a horribly broken economic system that goes far beyond allowing a competitive disadvantage. It borders on outright cheating. How the league has managed to maintain its anti-trust exemption with such a disfigured economic paradigm is beyond me. Payrolls between teams are so skewed that even a novice can predict the outcome of the upcoming season with surprising accuracy. For the fans of NY or LA hope abounds and the expectations cannot be high enough. But for those of us here in Pittsburgh?
Eh…Not so much.
But as I have explained before, we support our Pirates regardless. Such as they are. This season doesn’t give us the same hope that exists in say, the LA Dodgers clubhouse. Oh, God no. This reincarnation of the Pittsburgh Pirates has as much chance of winning the World Series as Mark Madden does realizing his fantasy of nailing Teagan Presley. Skip Bayless’ wish for Tim Tebow to be named Pontiff has a better chance or becoming reality than the Pirates do winning the World Series.
But this season isn’t without some promise. Sure the Pirates have ZERO chance at playing in October, but there are only a half dozen teams that do. What they have is an opportunity to do is break The Streak. The longest streak of it’s kind IN THE HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS: 20 consecutive losing seasons. That frustrating and embarrassing streak of idiocy and incompetence that stops every Pittsburgh sports fan dead in his tracks:
Yinzer Fan “WHooo-HOO! Pittsburgh @*)$@ RULEZ bitches!!”
Opposing fan “No it does not.”
“Screw you (Insert opposing sports fan city here)!! Six Super Bowls! Three Stanley Cups! More HoF Football players are born and play here than anywhere else!”
“The Pittsburgh Pirates.”
“….. ….. ….. ….. man, screw you, dude…. That was uncalled for…”
It could have been broken in 2011. It should have been broken last year. I wrote plenty about why it didn’t.
But this year IT WILL END.
The Pirates have the best all-around player in the league in center field, that being Andrew McCutchen. Neil Walker is as good a second basemen as there is in the National League. They have the Pitcher voted “Most likely to survive a Zombie Apocalypse” in AJ Burnett. Garret Jones and Pedro Alvarez have the opportunity to cash in is this year, and nothing motivates a ball player quite like the brass ring of UFA. Starling Marte and Travis Snider have (*shudder) potential.
Francisco Liriano and Ray Liotta…err, I mean Russell Martin, are interesting free agent signings that are upgrades to their predecessors. Liriano might be able to regain his 2009 form when he was a Cy Young candidate. PNC Park has that effect on pitchers. Martin cannot possibly be worse than Barajas, and he played with Burnett on the Yankees. You can never have enough guys like Martin and Burnett, players that come from an organization where professionalism, execution and success are the standard, not a goal.
Playoffs are about the best this team can hope for, and that is a long shot. The NL Central didn’t get any easier with 9-12 easy wins shipped to the AL West in the form of the Houston Astros. (As if the Rangers, Angels and A’s needed the help) Still, the NL Central is winnable. Though that would take a few injuries to Brandon Phillips or Joey Votto, probably both. But a wild card certainly isn’t out of the question. Liriano and Russell would need to return to former glory, stars would need to stay healthy and prospects like Marte and Snider would need to grow up into the players they are expected to be. And even if injuries occur there might actually be some players in AAA Indianapolis that might actually be ready to contribute in the form of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
Maybe that sounds like a lot to ask for, but it is hope. And in Pittsburgh when it comes to the Pirates, hope is something even more rare than a winning season. Regardless, for the next 8 months we will fret at every pulled groin. Wring our hands at every failed bunt attempt and stomp our feet every time Pedro hacks at change-up on a 3-0 count. We will nail ourselves to a cross like the sports martyrs we imagine ourselves to be. Above all we will unequivocally love this Pirates team just as we have the previous twenty. Might not make much sense, but then neither does “The Real Housewives of Blah Blah”.
What can I say. The heart wants what the heart wants.