Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ready yourself for the Pirates media bombardment

Now, the real test begins. Can these guys keep this up under the pressure of July trades, bullpen regression and injury, a bevy of questionable base running and a manager with a penchant for bunting?
We’ll soon find out. But in the meantime, brace yourself for what’s becoming an annual trend that, for whatever reason, seems to coincide with Ramadan: the litany of national media interest in the Pirates.
It started with the SI cover:

Sometimes, I wish that jinxes and curses were real. Were that the case, Sports Illustrated could purposely fuck over so many teams now that they have different covers for different regions of the country. As it stands, the fact that as of last night, the inside of Jason Grilli's elbow probably looks like a 75-car pileup inside the Squirrel Hill Tunnel is another in a series of sad coincidences.
Playoff-bound? The season’s barely half-over! The Pirates still have 13 games against the Cardinals and Cincinnati is still in the division. Jason Grilli’s arm may have fallen off last night.
The Pirates are a top-five team in wins, but they’re eighth in run differential in baseball and third in that category in their own division. The Pirates will finish with a winning record this year, but if ever there was reason to concoct a jinx and assign it to SI’s cover, it’s for things exactly like this.
Then, you’ve got what’s becoming an annual “hey guys, look out for the Pirates!” piece from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, who’s actually way too good at his job to be working for ESPN.
It’s even got a photo of McCutchen looking like Jesus:

He willed it, and thus it became so. And Cutch smiled. And it was good.

And the Lord said unto Cutch, toss thy bat into the air and I shall suspend it there. And it shall mistify thine enemies and delight thine brethren, and the opposing pitchers will quiver with fear and yet refuse to walk you every single time steppeth you to the plate.
Not to mention one instance of Cutch sounding kinda like Jesus:
“But every year since I was drafted, we've gotten better.”
Then, there’s this slightly overwrought little gem from the Washington Post’s Dave Scheinen, whom I actually like a great deal.
Here they came, strolling across the Roberto Clemente Bridge that spans the Allegheny River downtown, under the late afternoon sun, in sporadic twos and threes, a trickle of early-arrivers, on their way to sip happy-hour beers or watch batting practice. And here they came still, in the early evening shadows just before first pitch, a teeming flood now of yellow-and-black-clad humanity, funneling in and filling every square inch of their waterfront baseball palace.
Ah, the elegiac symmetry of the emerald chessboard.
“It’s a great baseball town,” said Bob Walk, the Pirates’ longtime radio broadcaster. 
In April, Bob Walk also spent the better part of an inning openly pondering the difference between “mostly sunny” and “partly cloudy.”
Earlier this week, he expressed something just short of rage that hitters aren’t credited for at-bats on sacrifice fly balls, but are on sacrifice groundouts — a perfectly legitimate point that he sought to validate by postulating that back when the rule was invented, nobody tried to hit the ball in the air. If a batter hit the ball in the air, he reasoned, it would likely be caught.
I hasten to point out to Bob that such is still the case — perhaps even more now that players wear gloves.
But back to Scheinen.
On October 14, 1992, Walk, a right-handed pitcher, was warming up in the Pirates’ bullpen in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series when teammate Stan Belinda threw the fateful 2-1 pitch that Atlanta Braves backup catcher Francisco Cab
Of course, what’s the annual “hey, look at the Pirates!” story without rehashing this?
You know what, though? This doesn’t bother me anymore.
For a long time, Sid Bream — who works in the Pirates organization and still makes his home near Pittsburgh — was persona non grata. Francisco Cabrera was He Who Shall Not Be Named. Time was, you could give a Pittsburgher of a certain age a heart attack just by bringing this up.
But after 20 years, two ownership changes, four general managers, six field manager and god only knows how many terrible, useless players, that Game 7 moment seems kind of trivial.
The writing was on the wall. We knew that was going to be the end of those Pirates, probably even if they’d gone on to win the World Series.
What transpired has certainly sucked, and though painful by correlation, the end of that Game 7 has never had any causal relationship with what we’ve had to deal with the past 20 years.
Let’s collectively acknowledge this.
Say it with me now.
Francisco Cabrera.
Francisco. Cabrera.
It’s not Francisco Cabrera’s fault the Pirates have been awful for 20 years. It’s not Sid Bream’s fault. It’s not Barry Bonds’s fault, and it’s not Stan Belinda’s fault.
Stop what you’re doing, go outside right now and just shout it.
Hey, look. You’re still here, and you’re okay.
And so, as August approaches — with its promise, across this land, of a thrilling stretch run toward October — take a pause in the noble cause of rooting home your own team, no matter how starved for a winner you may be, and send some warm thoughts toward your Pittsburgh brethren, that they may know, for the first time in two decades, what it feels like to love a winner.
The bandwagon potential here is just scary, but it’s nice to know that, at least for now, fans around baseball want to see the Pirates do well.
Man, can you imagine the response if Neil Walker came out as gay? This team would be the feel-good story of the decade.
He’s from here, you know.

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