Tomorrow afternoon the Pittsburgh Pirates will start doing what has been on the minds of every player since the last time any of them took a competitive swing, or thrown a baseball in anger; they are going to play the game. The Twins are first up on the spring schedule and it's apropos that Derek Shelton should immediately be afforded the opportunity to introduce his current team to the product his mold can produce.
The first pitch will undoubtedly be a fastball and the batter will likely not swing, everyone wants to hear that first pop of the mitt, it means baseball is back. It sounds different when someone in a different jersey is throwing it, even before the outcome matters and the stats start counting.
It's been one heck of an off-season for Pittsburgh, their trust was shaken in their room as one of their own shook them to the core. Leadership that was supposed to come from veterans last season will now be trusted to youngsters who carry themselves as such. New manager, new bosses to impress, players who felt the unquestioned belief of the previous regime don’t stand quite so tall as they now feel the need to earn it again.
None of this will be erased from the record, or the memory banks for the players or the fans, but at least the conversation starts to change. It progresses from what went wrong in 2019 to are they moving in the right direction in 2020? It becomes less about what his WAR was last season and turns to what is his WAR this season. Now the players write the story, we just tell it and the play won’t lie.
We’ll disagree with coaching decisions and scrutinize players for not running hard. We’ll wonder why someone threw a curveball down 3-0 in the count and crush the entire 26-man for swinging at it. Oh, we’ll also look up and see Bryan Reynolds has 3 home runs on April 4 and project him to hit 60 and call for Tucker to replace Newman after he goes 0-4.
Above all, we’ll have baseball to discuss and the players, win or lose, will love every minute of answering questions and talking about that as opposed to how to punish cheaters, or who stunk last year. I look forward to that sound every season because for that one moment, the game is back and at least for a while the only drama that really matters happens on the field.
Far too often sports have been swept up in the winds of instant opinions and groupthink that is social media. People have sided up on the Pirates to the point it would appear commenters are playing a how-low-can-you-go competition when guessing their record. In the modern era of baseball twice, that’s right twice, has a team finished with less than 44 wins, the 1962 Mets had 40 and the 2003 Tigers won 43. That is not going to happen to this Pirates team and the suggestion is quite honestly not serious. That said, they won’t win it all either, this too is not a serious expectation.
Suggesting ridiculous levels of suck like “this team has maybe 2 players that could start elsewhere” is silly. Clearly not true, not even close actually. Maybe on the Dodgers, but trust me, there is real talent here.
Yes, baseball is back, and every loss will create cries of accuracy for everyone who thought they’d be bad and every win will be the start of that streak the optimists saw coming all along. Seven games back of a weak division leader, some will call for trades to go all in and others will call for fire sales that help their preseason prediction and further their favorite mantra of Nutting pinching nickels and spitting on season ticket holders from the luxury boxes. But between all that will be real pitches, and real hits and actual base running. Real players honing their craft, some putting their foot in the ground and trying to stay in the league, others putting an emphatic exclamation point on what they did last year. Some will prove themselves not part of the solution and others will become measuring sticks for the seriousness of this administration to build on the talent already here.
Moving forward is the only direction now and no matter how many times you repeat your opinion it won’t stop the games themselves from being the arbiter of truth.
Possibly the most beautiful thing about baseball is that success is actually far less frequent than failure. The very best hitters fail seven out of ten times. The best pitchers in the game typically give up three runs a game. Geez, when you think of it that way the umps probably have the best success rate on the field.
No matter how you feel right now about this club or this franchise moving forward, no matter how little you trust this owner or somehow think he has done his best (yes, I’ve actually seen it), no matter how little the commissioner knows or likes the game he presides over, the game is back.
Somewhere along the long and winding road you’ve traveled to get where you are today, you fell in love with this game, and while your hometown team has more often than not let you down, do remember to allow yourself to recall what made you fall in love. Did the Buccos win that one summer when you were coming of age? Did they come close and introduce you to a pennant race at the right time and embed themselves in your DNA forever? Whatever the reason you love this game, it's still there, and every season, even when a championship isn’t in sight, offers the beginning of a new journey.
The game we all love is back, and I can’t wait to talk and write about it, good, bad, ugly and triumphant.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007