August 2011

Record breaking deals set framework for future

In 1869, George Wright signed the first professional baseball contract to play for the Cincinnati Red Stockings. His $1,400 salary raised many eyebrows across the country as it was unheard of for any working man, let alone a baseball player, to make that much money. It was that historic inking that is still felt even today.

As the August 15th deadline for Major League teams to sign their draft picks drew near, attention turned to the Pirates who were hoping to make the biggest splash with their potential players. With former UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer already at the AA level for the team that signed him, Arizona, pressure was on for the Pirates to wrap up fellow Bruin, Gerrit Cole. The No. 1 overall pick back in June, Cole was said to have more upside than the progressive Bauer. Adding Cole to the organization would give the Bucs one of the deepest pitching threats across the league.

Well, 8 million dollars later, the depths of the Pittsburgh pitching core has just grown deeper.

Setting a minor league contract record, Cole was not the only pick the Pirates were able to control late Monday night.

Josh Bell is also jumping aboard, surprisingly to many.

The Dallas native and University of Texas commit was able to be preyed away from heading to college at the price of 5 million. Again, a record. This time for that of a second round pick. Many believed Bell was easily a first round prospect but questions of his sign-ability allowed him to fall to the second round.

Bell and Cole easily become a pair of  top 10 prospects in the organization. Both were clients of Scott Boras and milked out the best prices to get their careers started. All in all, the Bucs spent an unprecedented 17 million dollars to sign 24 drafted players. Of those 24, 10 were indeed selected in the top 10 by the team.

Pittsburgh showed a commitment to establishing the franchise from the ground up. The work General Manager Neil Huntington has, at times, been controversial, but the approach taken has been radical enough to fuel support and actually make sense. While it will take some time for Bell and Cole, along with previous years top picks, to make a solid impact, at least having them under strong grasp can only aid the future.

photo credits: baseballhistoryblog.com, espnrise.com, David Stoner

Welcome to PENCE-ylvania

Usually, one of my weekly traditions is enjoying a relaxing Saturday afternoon watching This Week in Baseball from my comfortable couch.

This past week I did so in Citizens Bank Park.

A Pirates featured segment was shown as part of the 30 minute program on the jumbotron at the exact same time the Pirates were stepping into the batters box for pre-game batting practice. It was a beautiful day for baseball in Philadelphia  and Erin and I were lucky enough to enjoy it all. We made the trip across the state of Pennsylvania for the weekend to see the Pirates play the Phillies. Although it wound up being a sweep by the boys from the City of Brotherly love, we had a great time and saw a competitive game on Saturday evening.

As soon as the gates opened we rushed to the field for a closer look at BP. Decked out in red and blue, Phillies fans clamored throughout the park some 2 and a half hours before the game was slated to start. It was the largest pre-game crowd I had ever seen at a big league park. The brass was indeed treated to a show, as were we.

Making his Phillies debut, Hunter Pence responded to the huge ovations he received, just by stepping into the cage, by launching balls out of the yeard. From our account, at least eight of Pence’s swings were home runs, long ones at that.

Pence’s arrival in Philly was the talk of the sports world and surely the talk of the town.

The starting lineups were posted on big boards, sponsored by Topps. To avoid any confusion, an aerial shot of Citizens Bank Park did not play right field, rather, Pence did.

Pence even got friendly with many of the Pirates, including a three minute long conversation with manager Hurdle.

Now, all this Philly hype didn’t get me down. I embraced it, respected it and acknowledged it. The whole set up, atmosphere and pride Philly has with their baseball team is impressive. They put on a great show, both on and off the field, and I had a great time taking it all in.

I didn’t go for them, though.

This trip was made solely for the Buccos. And, win or lose, I was going to support them, be loud and make it known that Southwest PA can competed with the bigger market on the eastern side of the state.

As I did for the Yankees game in Cleveland, I brought my new Nikon D3000 and snapped some pretty cool pics of my team.

Alex Presley

Andrew McCutchen

Clint Hurdle

Garrett Jones

Jeff Karstens

Joe Beimel

Joel Hanrahan

Jose Tabata

Mike McKenry

Neil Walker

Pedro Alvarez

Ronny Cedeno

With more than enough time to spare before the game, we wandered about the stadium. It was Erin’s first time at the Bank, my second. I went with my parents in 2004, the year it opened, as part of one of our glorious baseball road trips.

I ran into a fellow blogger and minor league baseball connoisseur, Tug Haines.

Be sure to read his blog at casualfan.org as he travels the country visiting Minor League ballparks.

From the friendly, now  to the creepy.

Let me first say that the Phillies have some quality souvenir items at many stands scattered throughout the stadium. I do include these under the “quality” category.

Player stuffed animals were flying off the shelves, after customers forked over $28. I admit they are pretty cool, but also could be used for some forms of voodoo. I would like to see a dreadlocked Andrew McCutchen or bearded Neil Walker doll being sold in Pittsburgh. Secretly, I would buy one.

We scored 45 dollar seats on Stuhub in the week leading up to the game. Not bad considering our fairly primo location in section 419, directly above and behind homeplate.

The night belonged to the Phillies with their 7-4 victory. Ryan Howard went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a home run. Cliff Lee struck out 11, but the fact that the Bucs got four runs off him, we couldn’t be too upset. Not many teams could say that.

As for the “golden boy” Hunter Pence.

He went 1-for-5 getting a key hit in the 8th inning. Through six innings he was 0-for-4 and left five guys on base. In typical Philly fashion, he was booed and jeered.

Nonetheless, it was a fun time in the very nice city of Philadelphia. It does get a bad rap, although it honestly is a deserved tag. However, the fans, most of them, are first class. Even the bandwagoners that are just there because its the cool thing to do pay attention to the game and hang on every pitch.

The crowd was electric and every single fan of the 45, 737 created an electric baseball atmosphere. It was announced that the 25th million fan in the seven years of Citizen Bank Park came through the gates on Saturday night. That is a phenomenal milestone. And for good reason, the fans come in droves to the park. Upper management puts a great product on the field and the chemistry of the team surely pumps the skills and stats into their on field play. The Phillies are a symbol of success and the strongest dynasty in the National League.

Looking over the sweep, the Pirates added two bats to a depleted offense. Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick will be transplanted to Pittsburgh and instilled as go-to pieces in the Bucs lineup. They aren’t much, but they are upgrades and solid additions to make this team competitive towards the pennant run.

In any case, we’ll be cheering them on all the way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.