As Pittsburgh fans we all have at least one thing in common—we are completely spoiled with championships. We think that two or three titles in 10 years is normal, and if we aren’t seeing that kind of production then something is devastatingly wrong. I want to address the tendency for our fans to overreact; whether positively or negatively, and how that is problematic.
We are now 10 games in to a 162-game season. That is less than 10 percent of the season, which is comparable to one and a half NFL games or eight NHL games. What I am saying is this is far too early to declare the season a disaster or success.
When I look at the games that have been played so far only three have been decided by more than three runs. Furthermore, the majority of these games that have been played have been decided on one pitch or inning. This means they could have been won by either team, and the difference is often minuscule.
If the Bucs squeak out a hit with RISP against Sale and the Sox or if Cole has some better luck in the 5th inning on opening day, we could be talking about how fantastic the starters have looked and how the Pirates are the team to beat in the division. Conversely, if Atlanta completes their late inning push and then Rizzo mashes a homer yesterday to take the lead, we’d be even more pessimistic and worrying if the Pirates will ever win a game against a decent team.
When I talk to people and they pull their hair out after every loss it make me wonder. How do they even enjoy a baseball season, with all the ups and downs, with this mentality? Baseball is a game of numbers and large sample sizes. To pretend like we know anything about how this team will ultimately round out is worthless.
Last year, I watched the Cubs go 12-14 in July. This team won 103 games last year. If they had started the season 12-14 fans would be clamoring for change. Something like this happens yearly and usually multiple times. Top-tier teams rarely win constantly all year. Every team has ups and downs and it’s the team that can shorten the tough times and ride the wave of success that will ultimately come out on top.
We are very lucky to be in a spot where our team is one of the more talented in the league and we are perennially competitive at this point. As we all know in Pittsburgh, when it’s bad it can be REALLY bad. We have seen it last for more than 20 years and I’ll be the first to tell you it was tough sledding as a fan for that time. Embrace the good, enjoy the ridge, and grab a beer…we have five months of this ahead of us. Buckle up.
There has been some chatter in the local media lately about the fact that Vegas has Clint Hurdle leading the pack as best odds (7/2) to be the first manager fired this season. There are a few ways you can look at the Pirates manager situation. For me, they are in great shape with who they currently have in house, but as we all know when a team underachieves the first piece to go is the manager or a coach.
First of all, I want to start by saying I understand the odds. We have a ball club who came from the bottom of the league to winning 280 games in three years from 2013-15. I don’t care what your thoughts are on the front office, you can’t argue with those wins. This puts the Pirates in the conversation as one of MLB’s best organizations over the past four years. When any top-tier franchise takes a big step back this is the conversation that inevitably will come to the surface.
I see a lot of complaints when Hurdle makes a move that doesn’t work out or a shift gets beaten, but I hear little praise when these things go well. The positive outcome has been much more common recently as we see depicted in almost every trackable piece of data. We see the Pirates as one of the more successful shifting teams in the league yet every time Cole has a weak grounder sneak through the shift I hear people screaming about two things: Cole is not an ace and defensive alignment. At the very least, pick one of those to be upset about because you can’t have it both ways.
Luckily for Hurdle, I believe the front office agrees with the way he is using numbers and employing a more progressive managerial style. Anyone who has read up on or knows anything about Clint knows that he wasn’t always so inclined to take the numbers this seriously. He has said in the past that he makes a lot of decisions with his “gut” and was one of the more traditional managers. Once he came to Pittsburgh, the Pirates front office had a chance to sit down with him and give another point of view is when things started to come together.
In Pittsburgh, we are used to the club trying to do more with less. It’s something that we expect at this point yet still pull our hair out every offseason when we see it happen. I think what is being proven is that there are more to players than names and more to stats than home runs. The club and manager are on the same page with this, and I believe it would take a catastrophic start to the season for there to be a change.
What would it take? Well, I do believe it is possible but not until at least two months have gone by. I don’t see enough egregious coaching mistakes for the club to make a knee-jerk decision. We would need to see multiple poor months for the Pirates to move on from Hurdle. We would need to see the team quit on the manager. We would need to hear vocal displeasure from someone other than McCutchen. The front office would need to feel like Hurdle had lost the team.
I say this for a couple reasons. Not only has the club overall been very good over the last few years, which lengthens the leash, but also who would they bring in that is better? Clint has taken TWO clubs with extremely poor track records to the playoffs and the most recent has a window that is still very much open. Is there anyone out there that honestly believes the next manager that comes in would put the Pirates in a better position to win now?
All I ever hear is they need to win now. Stop worrying about the future. Now we are talking about a move that would, without question, decrease the odds of getting back to what we saw for those three straight playoff runs. This is not the NHL and it is rare that a mid-season coaching change leads to anything positive.
Basically, what I am getting at is that I don’t think we need to be concerned with any major change coming down the road. This is the first week of the season and we should fill our baseball conversations with hope and positivity. No matter who you root for, the first month of the season is about having a chance. Everyone is in striking distance and it is wide open. Everyone in the media has time to fill so I suppose it’s a topic, but for me, it’s not worth spending much time on.
Whether you take the family, a couple buddies, or head down on your own, a spring trip to Bradenton has everything you need. I finally made it to Pirates Spring Training this past week, and I was not disappointed. I’d like to give you an idea of what my week looked like and some other ideas that could maybe get some fence sitters to take the trip next year.
First of all, my trip was very baseball-centric being that the group I went with were all huge baseball fans. However, you are certainly never short on things to do in March in Florida.
Our flight landed Wednesday at 9AM and the week began. We wanted to pack as much baseball in to our four days as we could so the first day we had two games scheduled and little time to waste. The first game was in Clearwater where we saw the Phillies take on the Yanks, and it was a great start. Spectrum Field was interesting. Spring home of the Phillies, we knew there would be no shortage of food in the ball park. Yes, we had the cheese steaks but I was underwhelmed. I was hoping to have a more authentic experience with it, but it took a few days and an hour drive to find the steak I was looking for. This was the most intimate setting that I saw on the trip. Most of the outfield was grass similar to what you see in Williamsport, giving you an old school minors feel. I enjoyed this game a little more than most because I personally like to watch Yankees 1B Greg Bird and he belted two homers in just four innings.
After the game we hit the road to Bradenton and checked into our rooms with a little over an hour to relax before the night cap. The 6:00PM game was packed with power and an old friend Pedro Alvarez on the opposing Orioles to add a little something extra. Not only is Ed Smith Stadium, home of the Orioles in Sarasota, beautiful on the outside but packed with superstars on and off the field. This was a fun baseball game for several reasons. Chris Archer was on the hill for Tampa and he faced an Orioles lineup with Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Alvarez. Archer pitched well but Alvarez got to him a couple time and both teams were able to score more than six runs in this game. While watching some of the O’s relievers warm up we saw Dick Vitale and a man that we are convinced was Mike Emrick who was wearing the Pirate hat and everything. The importance of this game took on a whole new meaning when we found out the Orioles scoring four runs would land us a free order at a local ice-cream chain. They scored enough and we got our wish so all in all a great time at the ballpark.
The third ball park was definitely the most impressive. JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers was something else. Built to resemble Fenway and the little Green Monster in left field, you get all the iconic dimensions of the big field without the city hassle. This was the first game we went to that involved the Bucs and the way that the Sox were thrashing Drew Hutchison in the first I was thinking we should’ve put it off another day. At this point most of the player had returned from the World Baseball Classic and we again got to see some big time players get their reps. We had a great set up for this game. The seats up the first base line were great, but what I enjoyed most of all were the people around us. There was a family from Boston behind us who I’d say make the trip more often than not. They had a young daughter who was keeping the scorebook and a father who wouldn’t allow his teenage son to use his phone during the game. This appealed to the baseball purest in me and nice to see. We can add this game to the list of great experiences with the Boston fan base. That is a fun energetic place to be for sure.
For the final two games of our trip, we hit the home field in Bradenton. Newly renovated LECOM Park has a little bit of everything. You’re able to really get close to the players as they warm up which presents some great autograph opportunities for the kids. The entire outfield was re-modeled last year and the upgrade is fantastic. Stools line the outfield. Some of the areas are roped off for parties, but if you play your cards right you can grab a great seat against the wall or over the bullpen. Beyond center field there is an enormous circular bar if you are looking to party. I love to try something different when I get the opportunity to travel so I was sure to try the Gator Bites for lunch and again was pleasantly surprised.
The best part about staying in Bradenton is the variety. I mentioned earlier that even if you have members of your party that are not as big into baseball the trip can still work. Bradenton is a short drive from the beach that it’s easy to fall back on beach time if part of the group doesn’t want to be involved. We were able to head to Pirate City before both of the home games and take a look at some of the young guys taking BP and running through the daily drills. Surrounded by four ball fields you can take your pick of who and what you want to spend your time watching while there. The guys take the field between 9-10AM and wrap up around 11. This is a great opportunity for the baseball enthusiasts to get closer to the action and the rest of the group to take advantage of some of Florida’s other attractions. If I had more time I would love to go to the beach or check out some of the local golf courses.
All in all, a great experience for my family and I. I would definitely recommend giving it a shot and don’t be afraid to take the non-baseball watchers in your life. Plenty going on to keep everyone happy for several days. If at all possible I also suggest going in late March. Not only do you see more big leaugers but then you have the NCAA tournament as a night cap after the games. Oh, and the best part of the entire trip? I didn’t hear one “WOOO!” for four days.