I say that I am not a baseball fan. That is true now. However, that wasn’t the case when I was younger. I like to say the first sport I was introduced to was basketball but that would be a lie. Tennis was actually the first sport I was introduced to, when my Dad thought he was Richard Williams before the world actually knew who Richard Williams was, but the first sport I had the pleasure of seeing in person was baseball. The year was 1988, and my godfather, my godbrother, my sister and I had the pleasure of watching the Mets lose to the Cubs on a sunny day in Shea Stadium. From that day until about 2 years ago I followed baseball. The reason I’m telling you this is because the Pittsburgh Pirates qualified for the playoffs this week for the first time since 1992. I remember those Pirates of Jim Leyland, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, and a skinny Barry Bonds vividly and this blog is my tribute to them and to the Pirates of today.
The 1992 Pirates finished the regular season 96-66 and won the National League East. The Pirates won their division for the third consecutive season but lost the National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves in 7 games. That Pirates squad could have gone back to the World Series, something the franchise last accomplished in 1979. Jim Leyland’s squad featured youth at almost every position. That started in what was known as the outfield of dreams. That outfield consisted of Barry Bonds (who would go on to become the home run king), Bobby Bonilla (who’s probably still collecting checks from the New York Mets), and Andy Van Slyke (notorious Canada hater . . . look it up). Throw in a solid supporting infield, and pitching in Doug Drabek and the late season call up of Tim Wakefield (who recently retired) and the Pirates had the look of a franchise that would remain on top for years to come.
Until they blew it all up. Keeping that outfield costs and the Pirates weren’t willing to pay it. Bonds ended up with the Giants, Bonilla busted out with the Mets to the point they paid him to go away, and Van Slyke limped to the finish line in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Pittsburgh went with youth and they went on the cheap in hopes of getting back to that heyday of the early 1990’s. However, it didn’t happen. The franchise went on to post 20 consecutive losing seasons that finally ended this year.
The 2013 Pirates are back in the postseason! With the inclusion of a 2nd Wildcard berth the Pirates have qualified for the playoffs, where they will likely play division rival Cincinnati in a one off either at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati or at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Well, that’s assuming the Pirates or Reds do not catch NL Central division leader the St. Louis Cardinals who at 92-65, hold a 2 game lead over the Reds and Pirates with 5 games remaining. The Pirates-Reds battle will come down to the end as both teams finish the season against each other with a 3 game set in Cincinnati. That would decide who hosts the play in game, if both teams do end up finishing behind the Cardinals.
That’s a fitting end for manager Clint Hurdle’s boys. Hurdle’s squad is led by All-Stars in outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and 3rd baseman Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates also received solid pitching performances from Francisco Liriano, AJ Burnett, and the bullpen of Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli. Key trades for John Buck, Marlon Byrd from the Mets, and Justin Morneau from the Twins also shored up the bunch that finally removed that monkey of not having a winning season off of the Pirates backs.
As I said earlier, I have fond memories of that Pirates team in 1992. Why? I rooted against them. Yes, I did. I remember looking at the NLCS in my parent’s dining room, holding a little bunny rabbit on a key chain and chanting “win for the rabbit” to the tune of the Seminole war chant used by the Atlanta Braves. No, I was not a Braves fan and I have no idea why I wanted the Braves to advance but that’s the kind of thing a 10 year old does. I was 10, and I followed baseball. Today, I’m 31 and although I don’t follow baseball nearly as well as I did then I did want to salute the Pittsburgh Pirates, the City of Pittsburgh, and this time I won’t root against them. Why? I can’t find that rabbit.
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