Happy Thanksgiving Buccos fans! While you've been trying to execute the perfect brine for your turkey, the Pirates have been looking for the right mix on the field and in their front office. Things started becoming clear when Travis Williams and Ben Cherington were chosen to lead the charge, but what elements are missing?
I know it’s a little non-traditional, but I do all the cooking in my household and if you are a proud cook you understand that Thanksgiving is The Show for all home cooks. When I plan a meal like this especially when feeding 18 people, the devil is in the detail. Timing, initial shopping, space in the oven, seating, well, everything.
Building a baseball team isn’t much different, I mean sure you aren’t ideally putting a turkey at second base, although I remember Pat Mears. What I mean is there are any number of things that need attention and creating a perfect meal is the same kind of dance, creating balance and elements of everything you need in a roster to reach that Zen moment when you clink glasses, or fire champagne at everyone in a locker room.
So, what goes into this recipe for a successful baseball franchise, and how do you at times turn lesser ingredients into the star side on everyone’s plate?
Let’s start breaking this down and create the ultimate recipe for Pittsburgh Pirates' success!
The Home is Where the Heart Is.
Your home is where the event will take place and it sure does make a difference. A nice warm fire and plenty of places to sit, everyone looking comfortable and content means everything. The Pirates have really done a great job in this department. PNC Park is an absolute gem and Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona, LECOM Park in Bradenton are as well.
The Main Course
Turkey is traditionally the main course and I sometimes make 2 or 3 different kinds; baseball stars are better when they’re diversified in skill. For instance, a lineup that has all contact hitters has a chance to score 10 runs on any given night but as Earl Weaver expressed, the 3 run homer is the best play in baseball. A diversified lineup is something the Pirates have struggled to achieve over the years and, as currently constructed, they could be closer than any in recent history. Power has been the missing element and with Bell, Moran, Marte, and even Osuna, there is a core there for a great main attraction at the plate.
Friends & Family
Without friends and family, there would be no celebration. Without fans and supporters there would be no baseball club. The fans have been through a whole lot as forty years have now officially passed since the last World Series victory. Even when your family isn’t getting along there is still a love, still a passion, and still an understanding that they care. Sometimes family can’t make it, or maybe the falling out has been too big so the family separates, but the bonds are still there. The onus is on the Pirates to heal this fracture and create an environment that shows the effort required to convince their Familee things have changed. What I’ve seen is a family that has been hurt, but the willingness to heal is still there.
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Everyone would be disappointed if, for some reason. you decided to not serve these staples along side the bird, but when packing up leftovers you often discover they are barely even acknowledged. On a personal note, we have to eat quite a few potato pancakes and gnocchi the following week. I consider the Bullpen to be this category. Essentially, nobody notices them until they aren’t there. The 2019 season illustrated exactly that, as it was the first season since 2010 that it wasn’t a Pirates' strength. Never skimp on the staples folks, it ends badly.
Green Bean Casserole
Go ahead, put out a bowl of green beans by themselves if you like. You say to yourself, "Everyone will like them just as much me." Then nobody wants to even look at them, or they try to cover them in gravy to trick themselves into believing you took the time to make their beloved casserole. Starting pitching is a whole lot like that, having people with good stuff and control is essential, but it can be even better if you add the mushroom soup and onion straws that coaching and situational usage of a manager. This was a real issue as the Pirates spent a whole lot of time trying to convince themselves and all of us that green beans were good as they were, but they needed that extra seasoning and love. They needed those extra ingredients to take the cheaper ingredients and turn them into an orchestra of excellence.
There is nothing that comes close to sweet potatoes for me. I love them in just about every way you can serve them. So, every year I change my recipe, sometimes sweet, sometimes savory, always delicious. This is equivalent to rookie contributions. You can’t ever count on them but if you want success you better have them. The Pirates were extremely successful in this area with Reynolds and Newman competing for rookie of the year and setting the table for a bright future. They could use one from Mitch Keller next season as someone needs to step up and grab the mantle. Maybe Hayes can step in and assume the role. Regardless of whom it must be part of the meal.
Pumpkin Pie. I hate it. Yeah, I said it, I don’t like pumpkin pie or pumpkin anything for that matter, but I’d never dare have a Thanksgiving feast without it. Having a baseball season with no playoff race is no different. It's great to see players excel and be exited about the future but nothing makes the meal finish with the satisfaction it deserves like a playoff race. Being out of contention by July is a recipe for disgruntled fans, questions about direction, and disaster theories about the future. While at home people would just leave a little irritated, trust me they wouldn’t show up the next year without someone invited bringing one of their own just to ensure it was there.
I’m thankful this year for every Pirates' fan who has reached out and talked baseball with me since I started writing here about the club. Every one of you, positive or negative, show the fan base still has passion for this club and I genuinely love talking with all of you about the challenges they face and reasons for optimism we have recently received.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007