Posted on: August 10, 2011 8:21 pm
I ran cross country for four years in high school. I was OK, not great, for a couple of reasons. One, I was smallish back then and not very strong. Two, hay fever clobbered me annually in Michigan, from August until the first frost in late September or early October. Ragweed pollen choked off my breathing passages, and there were days when it felt like I could get no oxygen into my lungs.
Sort of, I imagine, how the Pittsburgh Pirates are feeling these days.
For four months, the Buccos were one of the best stories in the game. Even Commissioner Bud Selig said that Pittsburgh's was the first score he checks every night. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Bucs were buyers at the July trade deadline.
Then, wheeze, wheeze. ...
Clint Hurdle's club fell into a 10-game losing streak that has all but asphyxiated Cinderella. At 56-60, the Pirates were 10 games behind Milwaukee. Steelers season again is on deck in Pittsburgh.
Well, there are a lot of explanations, but those mostly are just accumulations of pieces of answers from over there and parts of answers from over here. Their pitching suddenly disappeared on them. Their bats went silent. The lowly Cubs and Padres swept them at home, socking the Pirates with their first winless homestand of six-or-more games in their 125-year history.
The Pirates were outscored by 45 runs during the 10-game streak.
Basically, the Pirates confirmed what many believed from the start: They're not quite ready to win yet.
Young legs and fresh arms are as important as ever in the game -- and, with the majority of steroids and greenies evidently expunged thanks to tighter testing, more important these days than at any time since the mid-1980s.
But young talent alone is not enough. Because among the many things the youngsters must develop is stamina -- both physical and mental -- for a 162-game grind.
The story of this year's Pirates is shaping up remarkably similar to that of last year's Padres, who also were the best story in the game until ... yes, until a 10-game losing streak knocked the wind out of them. Only difference was, the Padres skid started a couple of weeks later, on Aug. 26. Pittsburgh's started a month earlier, on July 29.
One common thread is poor Ryan Ludwick. The Padres acquired him last July 31 because they needed more production in the middle of their order. Pittsburgh dealt for him this July 31 for the same reason.
Now Ludwick is something of an unwilling expert on would-be contenders falling into 10-game losing skids and seeing their seasons crumble.
Though the losing streak wrecked their season, last year's Padres did gain a second wind, played in meaningful games all the way to the last day of their season and wound up with 90 wins.
These Pirates are only on pace for 77 wins, and the interesting thing now will be to see how they respond the rest of the way. This is an important stretch. General manager Neal Huntington has built a good nucleus of young players -- Andrew McCutchen, Neal Walker, Jose Tabata (who has been injured), Pedro Alvarez (who is having a miserable season). Pittsburgh is far closer to winning than it has been in a long time.
Still, what they need is some room to breathe, some room to grow. Some air.
That, or some allergy pills.
By my senior year, by the way, we won the league title. I contributed in a few small ways, scoring points here and there, but others did the heavy lifting. Still, it was a great ride and I made some lifelong friends while running over the trails and through the woods.
I still think about those days at this time of year, when school beckons and the baseball season shifts toward its final sprint. Sometimes the trails go uphill. Sometimes they disappear into the woods. The trick is in the persevering.
It would be a shame if things completely got away from the Pirates in 2011. This is an organization that has endured 18 consecutive losing seasons, a record for North American professional sports.
It won't be nearly the same as watching them fight for a spot in October, but if the Pirates can't climb back into the race, watching them battle for a .500 finish will still be pretty good drama.
Likes: Dan Uggla extending his hitting streak to 31 games. ... Sign-stealing controversies. There has been off-the-record chatter about those kind of capers in Toronto for years. It's amusing and entertaining. And my response is, if you think the Blue Jays are stealing your signs, then change your signs. ... The law in the great state of Michigan prohibiting public schools from starting before Labor Day. That's the way it should be everywhere. Summer doesn't end until Labor Day Weekend, does it? ... Here's to Jerry Garcia, who died 16 years ago Aug. 9.
Dislikes: The dancing woman in Cleveland behind the plate in that crazy Indians-Tigers game that ended at 2 a.m. the other night. Can't you just sit still and watch a ballgame? As if she wasn't distracting enough (I was home watching on television), she trended on Twitter. Now I can just see dozens of other wackos following suit looking for their own publicity. Please, no.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Well the first days are the hardest days
"Don't you worry any more
"'Cause when life looks like easy street
"There is danger at your door
"Think this through with me
"Let me know your mind.
"Oh, oh, what I want to know is, are you kind?"
-- Grateful Dead, Uncle John's Band
Posted on: March 4, 2010 9:54 am
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andy LaRoche feels the locomotive steaming toward him, but what's he going to do? Run?
He will open the season as Pittsburgh's third baseman.
Whether he closes it that way is an entirely different story.
Over there in the wings, Pedro Alvarez, one of the top five prospects in the game, is sharpening his defense, honing his hitting and preparing for a long future as Pittsburgh's third baseman (or, perhaps, first baseman -- Alvarez's bat is by far his most intriguing tool).
"No matter if I play with A-Rod, Pedro or nobody behind me, I have to get the things done that I need to do," LaRoche says. "It's not going to make me work any harder, or work any less.
"That's all I can focus on."
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers, 32 doubles and 95 RBI in 126 games last season between high-Class A and Double-A.
He likely will not break camp with the Pirates and probably won't arrive until June, July or later -- partly because the organization thinks he still needs seasoning, and partly because stashing him in the minors until then will delay the clock on his major league service time and stop him from being eligible for arbitration until after the 2012 season.
"It's easy to get excited about Pedro," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington says. "You see the strength in his bat, and what he did last year. But it's also easy to forget that he hasn't swung the bat above Double-A. Triple-A pitchers are going to teach him some lessons he needs to learn."
So the good people of Indianapolis (locale of Pittsburgh's Triple-A team) are in for a treat early this season. How long he remains there -- and how long LaRoche remains in the lineup -- right now is only a matter of conjecture until what most people think is the most fearsome bat to come out of the draft for Pittsburgh since first-round pick Barry Bonds in 1985 is ready.
"Obviously, he's a great player," says LaRoche, 25, who hit .258 with 12 homers and 64 RBI last season for the Bucs. "All the publicity he gets, it's not just hype. He's the real deal. He's a great hitter and a solid third baseman.
"It would be nice to play on the same field with him one day -- even if he's at third base and I'm at second."
Sunblock Day? If things don't change around here, I'm going to have to remove this category from the blog entirely. Not to keep bitching, but according to the St. Petersburg Times, this is the coldest winter in the Tampa area since the 1950s. According to the newspaper, so far this season, "Tampa and St. Petersburg have had 26 and 28 days respectively that haven't climbed above 60 degrees — the second-highest number in recorded history. And we're only a few days away from the record, which was set in 1958 when St. Petersburg had 31 days below 60 and Tampa had 30." Brrr.
Likes: Love the blue and orange paw print pattern throughout the carpeting in the Tigers' Lakeland clubhouse. ... Pittsburgh's Pirate City, about a mile away from McKechnie Field in Bradenton, is totally first class. The Bucs have done a great job incorporating their history, with photos and nods to men like Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Danny Murtaugh and Roberto Clemente throughout. Love the Clemente quote painted onto the wall above the door through which the Pirates exit to head toward the fields: "I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give." ... If you're on vacation to see the Pirates and just couldn't find a pet-sitter, there's a place just down the very rural street on which Pirate City is located that offers dog obedience training. Lessons are Tuesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Woof. ... Mixon's Fruit Farm also is just down the road from Pirate City, and it's a must-stop for lunch. The fresh orange juice is out of this world. The deli sandwiches are solid, but what's really a must-have is the orange swirl ice cream cone, made with Mixon's fresh orange juice. Mmmmm.
Dislikes: Not that I was ever tempted to watch, but sure am glad I missed The Marriage Ref the other night. Based on the awful reviews and some of what we've seen lately, this painful question needs to be asked: Has Jerry Seinfeld jumped the shark?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
Exhibition games start this week, and in tribute to Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who would open the Tigers' first Grapefruit League broadcast each spring with this poem, I've gotta go with this today:
"For, lo, the winter is past
-- Song of Solomon
You can listen to Ernie himself recite this verse from the Song of Solomon here, from his Audio Scrapbook (a cool four-disc set that is extremely well done). Just click play and it's the first up in the Harwell tribute video.