Friday, May 31, 2013

The Perennial Plight of the Pittsburgh Pirates (or) You Seriously Can't Lose Them All, Right?

Baseball has many streaks and superstitions. In a sport where a hitter may get three or more chances at the plate per game, in 162 games, streaks are inevitable. But when the individual becomes a part of the whole, those streaks can manifest into a period of futility rarely seen in professional sports.

Think about what you were doing in 1992. Starting a family? Starting school? Starting life? It seems like an eternity ago for those of us born in the 1980's. If you were born in 1992, you either have earned or will earn the right to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages in America this year. If you were born any later than October of that year, you've never been alive for a winning season by the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

With the win Thursday night over the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers, the Pirates sit one and a half games shy of the best record in baseball. Just past the one-third mark of the season, Pittsburgh has fielded a team that has accumulated 14 more wins than losses. It seems for the past few years, the team has stayed afloat longer into the season, yet in the end the outcome remains the same. The last time Pittsburgh finished better than fourth in the Central Division was 1999 when they ended the season in third place, five games shy of a winning season.

One often-given reason for the last twenty years has been the inability to keep young players due to salary demands. The typically lower-budget Pirates have long been the victims of baseball's financial system. But lately, free agents and draftees seem excited about the direction the franchise is going. With young playmakers like Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates have assembled a motley crew (sorry/not sorry about the swashbuckling pun) of veterans including Wandy Rodriguez, Russell Martin, and A.J. Burnett, as well as a handful of solid role-players. Will Pittsburgh be able to hold the young core together? New York and Los Angeles have deep pockets and are virtually never satisfied with their own talent.

It seems about this time of year, Sportscenter airs a nicely edited voice-over-tape piece about how this year might be the year to end the drought. For those of you with access to ESPN daily, please tell me I'm wrong. I'm sure there are those in the Steel City who are sick of the yearly play-up. But given the circumstances, I understand wanting to tell the Pittsburgh story before it ends (ahem). For right now, though, Pittsburgh has a winner. We'll check back in with them in fifty games or so to see where they've gone from here.

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