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Breaking through, holding on, loving back. Welcome to October.

Mark Melancon was making his fifth appearance as closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was July 31, “Thunderstruck” was playing at PNC Park.

Melancon, the Great White of the Pirates Shark Tank with Jason Grilli on the mend, retired St. Louis Cardinals sluggers Matt Holliday and David Freese with relative ease. They each grounded out to Neil Walker, who scored the go-ahead run on a Russell Martin single just a half inning earlier. There were over 31,000 fans at the park that night, myself included. Everybody was on their feet well before this moment, but with Daniel Descalso up to bat the energy grew louder and spread wider.

Strike 1.

“Let’s Go Bucs”

Strike 2.

The claps turned into woos.

Strike 3.

The tears started to fall.

This was my first Pirates game in over two months. A drought much longer than my liking, way too long for my original expectation. They were missing from my life; a lot was missing from my life. But from that moment further, things started to slowly be pieced back together. I made a lifetime of mistakes over a few dreary months and the Pirates were going to help get me through it.

But they were a catalyst for these problems.

Those were happy tears on that late summer night, but there were plenty more of the sad, mad, depressed, distressed variety every day before it.

THE MOVE

My dream came true, I was a resident of the Steel City, the capital of Appalachia, the Confluence, the Golden Triangle, my city.

Pittsburgh.

Quickly, though, that dream became a nightmare. A nightmare, that strangely enough, I didn’t want to wake up from.

I really didn’t believe in depression or any form of mental illness until I I experienced it for myself. I was depressed in Pittsburgh, my city.

This story begins in December of 2012 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Truthfully, with me, it always begins yet never seems to end, with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was covering a pair of events for my former employer. The annual Pirates Caravan rolls into my hometown and for the past two years I was fortunate enough to talk to some players and coaches, write a few stories and get a leg up on their preparation for the upcoming season.

Josh Harrison, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker, Alex Presley, Pedro Alvarez, Bryan Morris, Clint Hurdle and Rick Sofield all visited Northeast Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and North Central West Virginia fans and wide-eyed local sports reporters, like myself. My father complimented my articles the next day and he consoled me the day after.

I was offered a job in Pittsburgh. A job that I thought I couldn’t refuse. It would mean a career shift, a 9-5 (or so I thought) schedule and the task of fitting in a cubicle, but more importantly fitting in with a new group of people; coworkers.

However, I looked beyond all that. This was an opportunity to move to Pittsburgh. An opportunity. For me. To move. To Pittsburgh.

I couldn’t pass up a chance to be in the heart of it all. Instead of driving an hour my entire life I could be within 10 minutes. That’s 10 minutes away from PNC Park. I couldn’t pass it up.

I hated leaving a job I loved, with coworkers I loved. But, man, it was Pittsburgh. So, I moved in January.

And hated it

DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU GOT ‘TIL IT’S GONE

 Things just didn’t work out in this new environment. Part of it was me. A lot of it was them. There were things I wasn’t told, lies I was told and unfulfilled promises. I kind of new this at first, but I let it drag on longer than it should have. It was likely just the bleak optimism that I’ve had my entire life.

What is on me is my ability to adapt and I wasn’t ready for it. I jumped at a chance to break free from the normalcy but I realized, maybe too late, the normalcy is what I need.

I lost that optimism, bleak or not, dropped 30 pounds and developed a poor attitude. 

I wanted to go to Bradenton, Fla. for Pirates Spring Training. Again, always looking to jump at a chance, but it costs money — a lot of it — to fly to Florida, book a hotel, rent a car, buy tickets, purchase food, leave tips and all that other overlooked stuff that’s necessary on a vacation. Meanwhile, I was already shelling out enough each month for rent in a North Hills apartment, paying monthly bills and catching up on college loans. I wasn’t ready for it.

Opening Day rolled around in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t ready for it. I lost that optimism, dropped an unhealthy amount of weight and that poor attitude was on display each day. I was depressed.

NO CARES FOR THE WINS

I worked a lot and didn’t watch many Pirate games in April, May and June. I call that the dark ages of 2013, while most fans refer to it as the glory days. Pittsburgh was becoming a hot bed of Major League Baseball. All eyes were here on a scrappy, young team defying odds and climbing up the standings in a division, a league and a country.

I didn’t care.

Relaxation tactics and counseling sessions were my getaway from the world. The stresses of a bad job that kept getting worse and I couldn’t deal with what used to be fun. And, win or lose, the Pirates were always fun. 

Three months without a Pirates game. Not just in-person. But on the radio and TV, too. My dad had dreams of visiting me in Pittsburgh, going to a game, then celebrating at my place 10 minutes away. That didn’t happen. I didn’t want it to happen. There was too much on my mind.

BACK ON TRACK

I needed to feel whole again. I needed to feel good about my work, surround myself with good people and slowly but surely build myself back up again. I needed to write again. With the support of family, friends and the blessing of a new boss I started to being those steps to being Matthew Peaslee again. I was writing, I was gaining weight and I was able to watch the Bucs. It’s the normalcy. What I tried to run away from, I needed it to bring me back again.

Melancon’s sure-fire steadfastness slowly started to erode with three blown saves in the past week. I like, I let some other chances slip away while I’m on my road to recovery. Melancon still records out, so does Grilli, since his return. Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano fend off the rough outings and hone in on their craft, too. Neil Walker gets on base, Starling Marte comes through in the clutch, Andrew McCutchen exudes his swagger.

So can I. With a fair amount of ups and a decent helping of downs. In the end, it all balances out and becomes normal again.

BUCN ONCE AGAIN

The Pirates secured their first winning season since 1992 on Sept. 9. They clinched a playoff berth for the first time in 21 years on Sept. 23. But July 31almost trumps those dates. It brought me back to normalcy.

There’s still a lot of work left to be done, for myself and the Pirates. I’m worried about the future. But I’m slowly finding that sense of normalcy once again.

Though this isn’t normal.

 
But it sure is awesome. Welcome to Buctober.
 
Photo credit: Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Oh, Atlanta

The fun never stops.

Settling in from my last baseball trip, that you read about in my last one, I’m gearing up for another on a more Major level.

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Yes it has to do with the Pirates. No, it’s not in Pittsburgh.

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The Bucs are in Atlanta for a four-game weekend series and I’ll be there for three of them.

History hasn’t been kind to the Pirates playing in the ATL.

Mention the names Jerry Meals or Sid Bream to a Pittsburgh fan and you’re asking for trouble. Rather, stinging images that ruined games and seasons, while adding plenty of agony to already troubled years.

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July 26, 2011 and October 14, 1992. Nineteen years and nearly two months apart.

Two plays that have defined the Pirates’ history.

The Pirates went 19-42 the remainder of the way, last year, after sitting at 53-48 after Jerry Meals called Julio Lugo safe for the Braves’ 4-3 win in 19 innings.

Sid Bream’s slide at home was a little more clear cut, but still a call that could’ve gone either way. Yet no baseball enthusiast would’ve guess what it would do to a franchise for the next 20 years. Since that National League Championship game 7, Pittsburgh has failed to reach the postseason. The Pirates haven’t even had a winning season since Sid’s slide.

An awful twist of faith, a string of mismanagement, bad luck or some kind of weird hex — whatever has haunted the Pirates the most — it hasn’t made them win.

Atlanta owns a 93-61 advantage over the Bucs since that fateful NLCS.

Let’s hope I can reverse the curse.

Photo credits: youjivenmeturkey.com, hedgeco.net nbcsports.com, fansided.com

Minor League trippin’

Probably my favorite thing about baseball is the story that can be told.

Being at a live game is one of the most entertaining events one can attend and everybody in the stadium is there for a reason. Last week, my brother Zach and I had both a reason and  from it — had a story.

We went on a Minor League Baseball road trip to Buffalo, NY and Erie, PA.

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 Everything was set up perfectly. I had spent a few hours earlier in the week just scouring websites of various MiLB teams that are close to our home in Youngstown, OH. I first stumbled on Erie, with a game at 6:35 on Friday. Realizing that Buffalo was a mere hour and a half away, I checked the Bisons’ site out of curiosity. Lucky for us, they had a game at 1:05, earlier that afternoon.

ImageOh yeah, we had a baseball state of mind.

It took us just three hours to get to Buffalo, arriving at about noon.

ImageThat close to Canada, ah we’ll save that for later in the summer — really.

We found easy parking downtown, quickly bought tickets and we’re ready for baseball game No. 1 at Coca Cola Field.

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Built in 1988, it seats 18,000 people. The outside is very vintage, like an Ebbets Field. We were told it was meant to blend in with the other buildings of downtown Buffalo — and it really does. It can easily be mistaken for an office complex if you didn’t know any better.

ImageOne step inside, though, with one glance at that jumbotron, you’ll know you’re here for baseball. Unfortunately, the San Diego chicken wasn’t there that day. Perhaps more unfortunately, the Coca Cola Field scoreboard was recently unseated as the largest in the Minor Leagues. The Memphis Redbirds now hold that title.

We had two goals before the game started. Zach and I are kind of passed the autograph stage, but there were two people that we really wanted to sign.

Bobby Scales and Wally Backman.

Scales is a legend in his own right. My good friend Marc is a die-hard Cubs fan. Scales was a in the Chicago farm system for many years, but would only crack the North Sider’s line up around September call up time. Anyway, Scales has a large following, for whatever reason, and Marc said getting an autograph from Scales would be a life changing moment. If we got him to sign something, he was going to display it in between his Muhammed Ali and Michael Jordan signatures.

ImageThere was Bobby, but he didn’t sign. Not many guys stuck around to sign for us, or the maybe six others waiting. It was kind of like a Major League game when you can get close enough to yell at the players and they acknowledge, yet they usually disregard the opportunity to come over and sign. Truthfully, I don’t blame them. These guys are a step away from the big leagues and they have every right to have a professional approach to the game. That’s how AAA is, anyway. It’s not a promotion-ridden, activity-infested production. It’s as close to the MLB as it gets.

Still, some guys signed as soon as they saw a little kid, or elderly lady, hold up a ball.

 Oh, and Wally Backman? No sign of him — until game time.

He didn’t move from that position much coaching third base. And, much to our disappointment, there were no questionable calls for him to argue. If you’ve never seen him blow up on an umpire, YouTube “Wally Backman Home Run Ejection” or anything with his name in it. And, cover your ears, it gets quite vulgar — and hilarious.

Like I said before, Coca-Cola Field holds 18,000 people. Zach was not too impressed by the Friday afternoon attendance.

Yeah, this is a pretty cool portrait of myself. But look behind it and you can get a decent idea how how many fans showed up. It was spotty, at best, but I was impressed.

“There’s nobody here,” Zach exclaimed.

Actually, there was over 6,000 fans in attendance. Because it is a pretty massive stadium — for minor league standards — it can appear to be empty. In many other lower level fields — it’d be a sellout.

All of us there on the corner of Swan and Washington street on the sun-drenched afternoon were treated to a great game, itself, and quality entertainment.

When the starting lineups were announced and Zach and I penciled it into our scorebooks, I told him to watch out for DeWayne Wise. He was starting in CF for the Scranton Wilkes Barre, I mean Empire State, Yankees. Remember how he preserved Mark Buerhle’s perfect game a few years ago with the White Sox? Well he nearly topped it, minus the implications, with this bring back of a sure-fire Bisons’ home run. Very cool moment when the whole crowd stood up expected a dinger and I, honestly, had a hunch that Wise would go up and grab it.

Along with Wise, both rosters had notable players.

Former Pirate, Steve Pearce.

Decently regarded, Colin Curtis.

Omar Quintanilla, who has always flirted with the Mets roster.

Jordany Valdespin, who got “spun” around here:

Haha. He’ll be on the Mets roster soon — this week actually.

Jeremy Hefner is in New York now, too. He got the start last Friday and picked up the loss.

Now, for the name game.

With quality Italian names like that, there has to be a…

Yep. And the crowd loved it.

I thought the outfield wall provided a nice homegrown touch, but we wouldn’t have been in Buffalo with out some wings. The Bisons even threw in the celery and bleu cheese.

Bleu cheese got its first win of the season in the race. It wouldn’t be a minor league game without one of these and don’t worry — there’s two more left.

Again, the Bisons’ in-game production mirrored that of a major league game almost to the T. Which was refreshing, but not as charming.

They roll out three mascots. A pretty good number to keep potentially big crowds entertained — one would think. If Zach wouldn’t have stopped really fast, we wouldn’t have caught up with any of these three Bull-like creatures. The trio only appears during on-field t-shirt tosses, then rushes them back into a holding area. Never do they roam the concourses for pictures, hugs and high fives. If it wasn’t for their visiting in the seating areas, many little kids are bored at games. That was certainly the case in Buffalo.

One guy, however, stood out in the aisles.

dConehead has been a character at Coca-Cola Field for many years.

As for the game, the Yankees picked up four runs in the fifth inning after the Bisons jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first three.

Usually around the seventh inning stretch of any game I’m at, anxiety takes over and my few hours of relaxation and baseball is about to come to a close. Reality sets in. This day was different, around that same time of unrest, I felt happiness knowing that another nine inning spectacle was about to come.

Down 7-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Buffalo got one across but couldn’t come from behind completely. The home team fell 7-5.

On to the next one.

Jeryry Uht Park in Erie, PA lacked the big city feel of Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo, yet it still had a pretty cool vibe. It was located in downtown Erie, but we didn’t know we were even close to it, unlike Coca-Cola where it’s visible right off the highway and in many angles of downtown Buffalo.

We entered about a half hour before the game and we were nervous. It was Justin Verlander poster night and we knew we’d be cutting it close because only the first 1,000 people received posters.

 In all honesty, we were one of the first people through the gates. And the first 1,000 — didn’t even show up. Plenty of posters were left at the end of the game.

During it, though, was a blast.

Zach and I were selected for an on-field contest. At the end of the first inning, we went on the field for the “Crazy Frog” race. From third base to home plate, we raced another pair of competitors — also Pirate fans! Let me tell you, 90 feet is further than you think, especially when you’re leap frogging somebody. So as we tumbled our way down the line, fans actually cheered for us. To their dismay and ours — we lost.

The process of getting selected by the “Wolfpack” promo team and introduced by the on-field host, it reminded me so much of my summer, last year. As a minor league intern for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, I was responsible for many of the promotional activities and contests, just like these kids were for more. Whether you’re entertained by the production or not, a lot goes into it and time is limited between innings. I had a lot of respect for those interns and next time you’re at a minor league game, try to understand what all goes into making it work. It probably won’t seem like much — but trust me — it is.

Needless to say, Erie had much more of a homey, intimate and well, minor league feel.

With just one mascot — C. Wolf stole the show.

However, the SeaWolves were hosting the Baltimore Orioles AA affiliate, the Bowie Baysox. And I pleased to see former No. 3 pick and top prospect Manny Machado.

Those interns I praised earlier, yeah, they didn’t do their homework. Whether they realized how highly regarded Machado is or not — he was named the Strikeout Player of the Game.

Well, their decision paid off as Machado whiffed in his very first at-bat.

We sat behind home plate, very first row, for much of the game. I though these pictures turned out pretty cool, too.

Also cool — and comfortable — for that matter is Jerry Uht Park, itself.

 Except for that big wooded wall in left field. “What an eyesore,” we thought right when we looked up. We thought there was no way that it’s normally like that and a security guard confirmed that it is only temporary for an amazing cause. Jerry hut Park is right next store to Erie’s sports arena that houses arena football, hockey and basketball. Actually, it’s right beyond the Home Depot demonstration. Construction is under way for a 50 million dollar project that will add connected suites that will over look both left field and center court. A very productive and well-thought out idea that I’ll have to check out when it’s finished, next year.

The left field fence stands just 312 feet away from home plate and, sure enough, it was in play.

That hole two panel away from the orange bench wasn’t there before John Murrian stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. It was a two-run shot, part of a four-run inning, that gave Erie the come from behind, 6-2 win.

That’d be it for our marathon day. Zach and I will never forget this trip. It may have been crazy, our mother thought so, but that’s what was great about it. We put life to the side for a day and focused on the great game of baseball. No worries, no cares, no deadline, no hurry.

Hey, hey! I’m still not done.

A few days later, Zach handed the reigns over to my buddy, Andrew. Another day of minor league baseball was ahead for me and my lifelong friend.

We stayed in Ohio at Lake County for the Single A, Indians affiliated, Captains.

Francisco Lindor is their big name — Cleveland’s first-round pick from 2011, No. 8 overall.

Lake County is just one step up from Mahoning Valley — where I spent my summer all of last year. Lindor, along with several others, joined me for their first taste of professional ball.

Bryson Myles

Jerrud Sabourin

Alex Lavisky

I also got the chance to hang out with a staple of Eastwood Field, photographer Jesse Piecuch.

I think Im tough stuff with my camera, but Jesse’s is as fine as they come. And his photos — whoa, they are the best in baseball. Literally. The guy has a knack for the job.

In the afternoon sun, it was the perfect temperature for a game, with a slight breeze. I the shade, it was frigid. To keep even warmer, we migrated throughout Classic Park because we basically had the place to ourselves. Zach thought Buffalo was bad, I thought Erie was worse, but last Wednesday’s Lake County crowd was the slimmest I’ve ever seen. We counted no more than 50 people.

Still, the show went on.

Skipper was active.

And Captain Tony observed from his perch in center field.

The Captains rallied for four runs in the sixth and led 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth.

Ahoy, blown save ahead.

The West Michigan White Caps, a Detroit Tigers affiliate, teed off for four runs of their own. The rally was started by Colin Kaline.

Yep, that Kaline. Well, not exactly as in Al. But he is a spawn — Al’s grandson.

He didn’t come in with legendary numbers, but I’m sure it took Al a while to be Kaline-like, too.

I can’t imagine pulling off a pilgrimage like this in any other sport. Basketball? Football? Hockey? No way anybody would hit three different games, of any level, within a 4-day span in those sports. They’re all too similar. Baseball games are unique, their special. Every field is different. Every stadium is different. With the other aforementioned sports, it’s all defined in the exact same matter everywhere you go. The football field is 100 yards long, the basketball hoop is 10 feet tall. Hockey is…always played on ice. Baseball presents its own special calling and only the patient and appreciative can answer the call to the game’s adventures and journeys.

I’m glad to be part of the club.

Believe in Opening Day

I start to tear up every time I watch the end credits of the Christmas movie, The Polar Express.

It’s not even one of my favorite holiday classics, I may have only seen the entire thing once or twice. I definitely don’t make it a point to sit down and watch it when December rolls around.

But I make sure I listen to the song.

Josh Groban’s Believe takes me back to so many childhood memories. The warm feelings of Christmas morning with family all around and holding onto the wonder and amazement of believing in Christmas.

Well, I believe in Opening Day.

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Both holidays, yes Opening Day is a holiday, evoke similar sensations of hope. People may get tired of hearing the same, “Hope Sprigs Eternal” and “There’s nothing like Opening Day.”

Yes, seeing is believing.

ImageNot everyday you get to see all 25 big league guys introduced, honored and standing down the lines of a sun-drenched packed stadium. That’s what makes Opening Day special, but it’s surely not all.

Most of it starts outside the park.

ImageImageImageImageThere’s swarming activity going on at every corner of the city. Pittsburgh was loaded last Thursday morning with fans, friends and foes. From the Strip District, to Downtown, to the North Shore parking lots — it felt like something special was about to happen. With wall to wall people walking around taking in the sights and tailgating, it was like a college football Saturday. With plenty of Phillies fans right neck in neck with us Pirates, it enhanced the football-feel — almost like a BCS bowl game.

Everybody is out and about in the hours before the gates open. Half the fun is just seeing who you’ll run into.

ImageJon Anderson, one of the original MLBloggers and hit sensation with the mceffect.com.

ImagePirates owner, Bob Nutting.

ImageColor commentator and former World Series champion Steve Blass.

It was hard not to get a little chocked up walking through the gates for the first time in months, even though it seemed like an eternity. There was still a light chill in the air, but the weather was perfect for an early April day.

Of course, a “Peaslee Pose” christened the new season.

As did this nice picture of Erin and I. The camera used for all these pictures is the one I received as a graduation gift last May. It’s big, it’s cool and I haven’t really figured out how to use it yet. But one of the PNC Park ushers fixed the settings and got the lighting to work just perfect. Really, though, it’s impossible to not take a beautiful picture in the most beautiful park in baseball.

See?

Like I said before, the number of Pirate fans was rivaled by an extremely healthy slew of Philly people. I don’t blame them for showing up in droves. However, I was surprised there was so many of them, considering it was Opening Day and during the week. Many made a weekend of it and I hope they enjoyed the better city in the great state of PA.

The new season is marking our first in a different section of the park. Section 315 is where I’ll be found all summer long.

A perfect view of the skyline, jumbotron and all game action. Specifically, on Opening Day, those riveting pre game introductions.

Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, faces of the franchise are ready for a special year.

The game, itself, was just how I like it. Pitcher-dominated.

Erik Bedard impressed in his Pirates debut going seven innings, striking out four, while giving up six hits and allowing just one run — a Carlos Ruiz sacrifice fly where former Pirate Ty Wigginton scored on a bang-bang play at the plate.

He was upstaged by Roy Halladay who went a fantastic eight innings, giving up just two hits. The funny thing about those two hits — they came back-to-back by Alex Presley and Jose Tabata in the top of the first.

Jonathon Papelbon made his first appearance in a Philadelphia uniform and sent the Bucs down in order for the save.

How can you be disappointed in that? Arguably the best starting pitcher and closer in the game. The Phillies were without stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but they still bring one of the most potent offensives in the game.

People come from far and wide for Opening Day. Maybe they won’t make it back to another game until mid-July when they’re buddies are celebrating a birthday and need an excuse to drink. They probably won’t follow the team until then and, frankly, they won’t care.

For one day, they do.

And that’s what is great about baseball. It’s a rebirth signaling summer, signaling sunshine, signaling warm nights, high fives, walk off home runs, complete game shut outs, diving catches and winning streaks.

It’s cool and all when football, basketball and hockey season starts, yet they still don’t draw the attention and gain the fondness of baseball Opening Day.

The remaining 161 games of the major league schedule won’t be as eventful or have the pomp and circumstance, but that’s what makes it great.

There are 161 more chances to make the season special and you have everything you need to enjoy them all — if you just believe.

The “Mc” that saved Pittsburgh

As story this good hasn’t hit Pittsburgh since 1979.

Back then, a fictional basketball team hit the big screen. The Warner Brothers movie, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, was about a struggling team – The Pittsburgh Pythons. Playing in front of minuscule crowds at the now-ripped up Civic Arena, the Pythons were led by Moses Gurthrie (played Julius Erving aka Dr. J.). He was the star, one of the best in the league and the only worthwhile player on a forgotten franchise.

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The Pythons were bad, we’re talking Pittsburgh Pirates bad. Plenty of losing strung together with no real chance of ever getting better. Hopeless, downtrodden and demoralized, some players walked out on the team in Derek Bell-like fashion.

That’s where the story gets good. Wacky, rather.

Ready to attempt anything for the slim chance that the Pythons get better, Guthrie and chief team advisers go seek the tutelage of a star gazer. The fortune teller, of sorts, tell them to gather a team similar to Guthrie’s personal attributes if the Pythons wish to ever seek success. His astrological sign was Pisces, which is represented by a fish. The fortune teller advised them to assemble a team around the Pisces vibe, gathering players that all shared the zodiac sign of Pisces. Hence, the fish that saved Pittsburgh.

So, a ragtag group of less than-skilled players were signed by the team and, believe it or not, the Pythons who renamed themselves the Pisces in a true reshaping process, won the championships. It’s a tale that can only come true in Hollywood.

Or is it?

The Pirates may have taken a page from the Pisces, whether General Manager Neal Huntington and other front office brass have talked to a psychic remains to be seen, but they may have sought the guidance of a Waynesburg University student — Jon Anderson.

He’s had this blog called The McEffect for  few years now. Started in homage to Nate McLouth and rising star Andrew McCutchen, the site is a popular source for Pirates news, stats and all kinds of information. Jon has turned it into its own social media empire that has received national recognition and hundreds of thousands of views.

Huntington must have taken notice.

Even though McLouth was traded in early 2009, McCutchen came up to the bigs and made his mark right away. Then, along came pitcher Daniel McCutchen, who was acquired from the Yankees and James McDonald, who was acquired from the Dodgers.

In a flashback to the 1979 silver screen, things got even wackier.

Michael McKenry was brought in last year to help with catching duties and this offseason, Pittsburgh traded with the Brewers for 3B Casey McGehee and brought back McLouth. It rose the Mc total to six during spring training.

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Jon had the above shirts produced and they’ve drawn greater attention to the blog and the sheer ridiculousness of having six players with eerily similar names on the same team. They’ve been a hit, this off-season, with Pirates announcers giving them a shout out, WTAE news in Pittsburgh doing a story on him and in Flat Stanley-style, taking these shirts to cool place like Spring Training.

Bonus points for a picture with an actual Mc, like this fan with James McDonald.

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If the Mc’s aren’t the reason to believe in 2012, the B’s certainly are. Sticking with the name game, Huntington brought in catcher Rod Barajas, along with pitchers Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett. Not a McEffect, but rather a bomb of B’s, the signings were a viable fall back plan that further fuels the conspiracy.

It’s been 33 years since a made up basketball team from Pittsburgh used some goofy formula to save their season and fix their losing ways.

Nineteen years have passed since the Pirates have finished a season with more wins than losses. Maybe it was just time — time to do something crazy of their own. If Pittsburgh does have its first winning baseball season since 1992, you have to think the Mc’s are to thank.

It’s like Jon said in his television interview, “what else would it be?”

photo credits: soulstrut.com, mceffect.com

Good feelings getting easier

Same old Pirates.

Unlucky old Pirates.

Poor old Pirates.

Last week, the Pittsburgh baseball club caught a bit of bad fortune when its prized offseason possession caught some rawhide off the eye.

Already tabbed to be the Opening Day starter for the Bucs, A.J. Burnett won’t be making his black and gold debut until at least late May/early June as he recovers from his orbital fracture.

What else could go wrong?

Frankly, nothing. For the Pirates, it was more about what could go right.

Andrew McCutchen helped everybody forget about losing one star by assuring that another is sticking around for a while.

The 25-year old superstar also help put to bed some scrutiny that the Bucco brass has built up over the years. Many fans thought this day would never come, some thought it, but never really held out hope. Cutch is secure, Cutch is home and he is going to be a Pittsburgh Pirate until 2018.

As risky as it is for a franchise like the Pirates to lock up a player for a long time, they did it the smart way.

Jason Kendall, Brian Giles and even a guy named Pat Mears were in this situation, too. They were promising players who got thrown a lot of money and never really produced. Through injury and lack of production, they never really quite lived to their billing and, frankly, weren’t worth the payroll.

It’s easy to say that McCutchen will be different, but the only guarantee is the $52 million he will accrue.

What does separate him, though, from the lackluster “stars” of the early-2000’s is that he signed at a bargain.

McCutchen is just entering into the prime of his career. He may not light the world on fire to be a .300/30/100 player year in and year out, but he’ll come close. He is highly regarded as a top-5 centerfielder in the big leagues and is developing into a true 5-tool guy with his speed, bat and skills in the field. McCutchen provides a sense of reliability and assurance because he has been the face of the organization and will continue to be for at least the next six years. Also, as Pittsburgh isn’t the most lucrative location for top-flight free agents, the signing proves to doubting players that the Buccos mean business. A new wave is coming in and behind it is a committment to winning. If nothing else, it should at least ensure players give the Pirates a second look.

I guess what he does best is give the faithful a pretty good feeling…

And things are still getting easier.

Spring Training has come, baseball talk is in the air and my Pirates season tickets are in hand.


Maybe it was in honor of his extension which was signed the day before because Cutch’s smiling face is planted on the Opening Day ticket.

Which, by the way, is just 26 days away.

If that doesn’t give you a good feeling, I don’t know what will.

Photo/video credits: rantsports.com, espn.com, yahoo.com, youtube.com (via NASHCENTER), captainsblog.info.

Pirates Tonight

As I was getting ready to leave for a Friday evening of work, I heard a welcoming sound.

It wasn’t my mother telling me to hurry up and not forget my lunch — it was the glorious horns of Baseball Tonight on ESPN.

Jayson Stark joined Karl Ravech for the afternoon and led off with Pirates talk.

I was shocked too.

For the past few days, rumblings have been that A.J. Burnett was being swapped for the Pirates’ Garrett Jones. Well, as of yesterday, Pittsburgh seemed to pull the plug on that deal. But work truly isn’t done yet.

Stark said that there is mutual interest on both ends of sending Burnett to the Bucs. The Yankees appear to be desperate to let go of the pitcher who went 11-11 last year with a 5.15 ERA. Still, they’re not going to let him go for free.

The Pirates have a host of prospects who may be on the block that would work well in this deal. 1B Matt Hague is said to be Major League ready, or, if New York wants a pitcher — the Pirates have Tim Alderson or Bryan Morris that would be well worth the Yankees’ interest.

But with two polar opposite teams like the Pirates and the Yankees, money is the motive.

The driving factor for the Pirates would be for the Yankees to eat as much of Burnett’s contract as possible. He is owed $33 million over the rest of his contract — Pittsburgh doesn’t want to pay over $10 million of that.

After the Pirates failed to lure Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt to PNC Park, it may have been figured that they were done with their pursuit of a pitcher.

That’s not the case.

Stark also commented that if the Burnett deal does fail — or even in addition to it if it does go down — Pittsburgh has its sights set on a pair of other well-known pitchers.

He first mentioned Joe Blanton.

Blanton is a 31-year old righty with a low-90’s fastball and a notorious killer curve. He came to rise with the Oakland A’s, but has since ruffled through a period of injures with the Phillies.

Secondly, Stark brought up John Lannan.

Lannan is 27 years old and has been floated around ever since Jackson decided to play with the Nationals, next year. He’s a solid lefty who has been with the Expos/Nats organization for his entire career. He’s an innings eater, which is something else Stark said the Pirates are interested in.

All of these developments have been pretty encouraging news for Pirate fans. The team needs a starter, desperately, to strengthen and solidify a shaky rotation. All three will certainly not be coming to Pittsburgh. One might, two might. Either way — any of them are upgrades.

However, it’s easy to get caught up in what could be. Hearing news that West Virginia was for sure heading to the SEC rocked my world a few months ago. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen yet the Mountaineers will be in good hands with the Big 12.

The same could happen here.

It’s nice to be graced with a positive sighting and that’s what this Friday afternoon held for the Bucco faithful. It may not be an SEC_like destination, but if two of theses solid starters are nabbed:

it’ll be a Big12 landing for the Pirates.

Photo Credits: yankeeanalysts.com, thebiglead.com, espn.com

Visiting with the Bronx Bombers

It’s early February, the Super Bowl just ended and we’re riding out the seemingly endless winter months.

Even though at 52 degrees — it feels like springtime.

Still, with Opening Day just two full months away, the reality is that we all must play the waiting game for our pastime. Spring Training will soon fill the void and the Grapefruits and Cacti of Florida and Arizona will be ripe. But I like to prepare for baseball with some reflecting.

My favorite lyric of West Virginia’s unofficial state anthem, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” is “all my memories gather ’round her.” I have many memories with baseball. So many summer nights spent watching the game I love. Here’s a tale of last summer’s adventure with my family to New York City where we crossed yet another stadium off our list. Yankee Stadium would be our 27th of out 30 big league ballparks, but our day in mid-July started in Hoboken, New Jersey. The world-famous Carlo’s Bakery was our breakfast stop. Made popular by the TLC show “Cake Boss” Carlo’s is a bustling bake shop in the heart of Hoboken. The line to get in wrapped around the corner of the shop and you needed a number just to get in. Us, along with hundreds of other fans, waited just for the chance to sample some desserts and rub it in our friend’s faces that we actually experienced it. After over an hour wait, we finally made it in. Part of the feeling of the bake shop was the crazy fans just there to catch a glimpse of it all — much like the Peaslee family. It was jam-packed in the tiny bakery. There was no sign of the infamous, Buddy, but there was plenty of merchandise with his face on it. We left with a nice haul of delicious cupcakes, cookies, pastries and a coffee mug. All for less than 30 bucks, not bad for a breakfast in one of the most famous reality TV show sets in one of America’s most bumping metropolitan areas. As we ate on the drive over, our next stop was Yankee Stadium. It’s more than a stadium, though. While new Yankee Stadium doesn’t, I’m sure, have the charm of the old — it’s a baseball mecca. There was an aura about it that I’ve never felt before entering a ballpark. I had the feeling that I was going to something special, that it was a limited invitation that only a select few receive. Maybe I just take for granted that I get to go see Pirates games whenever I want, but the Yankees aren’t the Pirates. Love them or hate them, there is no in between. And there really is something romantic about the Yankees. They’re the most successful sports franchise ever and, believe it or not, they’re fans have earned a sense of entitlement. Yes it might be easy to be a Yankee fan, but there’s a lot of history, tradition and a legendary aspect you have to uphold. It’s a title that bears great responsibility. The sights and sounds were enough to give you chills. Although if you actually got chills, there’s something wrong with your health. Temperatures reached the high 90 and I’m pretty sure they even cracked 100. Wrapping soaked paper towels around our neck came in handy and so did the many water stations like this one. Free, unlimited water was available throughout the whole game. It was the first time I’ve ever seen such a table at a game. Definitely thoughtful and, honestly, the staff was courteous and helpful around the large spacious concourses.

The Yanks hosted the Oakland A’s on that hot Saturday afternoon. Zach, my brother, was all set in his Athletics attire. It was also kid’s truck day. I thought it was a great promotion and judging by his reaction here, Zach didn’t.

Our seats were in the last row, nearly behind home plate. Leaning up agains the final chain fenced was comfortable and a timely breeze cooled us off every once in a while. The best part of our seats was the perfect head-on view of the jumbo, and I mean JUMBO, jumbo-tron.

Hideki Matsui made his return to the Bronx after his first season away. He received a large ovation from the sellout crowd at each plate appearance.

He was only upstaged by Jorge Posada.

Recently retired here in the offseason, Posada played sparingly during the season and every time he was seen was special for the fans who cheered him throughout 17 years. He pinch hit for Gerald Laird in the eighth inning and got a base hit.

Some other special moments happened during inning breaks, too.

I was looking forward to this tradition from the start. During a sixth inning break, YMCA plays and the grounds crew dragging the infield dirt go insane. You won’t find personalities like this anywhere else in the MLB. It was pretty cool to see them, and the fans, get excited.

Sundays are always reserved for the playing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch. Not in New York. Every game is an opportunity to honor the country and, even on a Saturday, they still played it before Take Me Out to the Ballgame. It was the most moving part of the game, because I’m sure a lot of the people in attendance were in some way affected by 9-11. The only thing that would’ve made it better would be if Ronan Tynan was there to belt it out.

Just the week before our trip, Derek Jeter blasted a home run for his 3000th career hit. Jeter-fever was still in the air.


Like I said before, everything about this ballpark is amazing. It’s a pristine stadium big enough to house the masses of fans, but small enough to still let you know that the game on the field is the most important thing going on. I rank Yankee Stadium in the top five of my favorite ballparks, probably behind San Francisco’s AT&T Park and, of course, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

After a late rally in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees still lost, 4-3.

We still had plenty of Saturday evening ahead of us and some of Sunday morning to check out the rest of what NYC had to offer. For my family, it was their first time in the city. Me, well I spent an evening there back in 2007, my freshman year of college. Along with some other friends, I took a bus trip to Piscataway, NJ for a WVU football game against Rutgers. That night, we had a few hours to roam about the city. This weekend was a nice refresher on the city that never sleeps.

A New York City Subway ride jumpstarted the rest of the night. An experience in itself, we were small fish in a big pond. It’s crazy to figure it all out. Yet it was still a beginning gateway to the Big Apple.

We started with a great dinner at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant.
Just like Pit Bull said, go to Times Square and take a picture of me…

with the Naked Cowgirl!

I ran into some more buddies at the FAO Schwartz store.

The Plaza Hotel, New York’s most exciting hotel experience.

We didn’t wake up early enough to see the Today Show live. But we were right there, live from studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza on a Sunday afternoon.

What’s the next best thing to exploring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island? Posing by a sign for the two national landmarks!

While a mass —in Spanish — was going on, the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was a bustling tourist destination. It was a beautiful worship place and the fanciest church I’ve ever been in. In shorts and t-shirts, we were surely underdressed for mass and late, no less. Nonetheless, ushers encouraged any Catholic tourists to go receive Holy Communion. So, we did.

With our vagabond shoes still longing to stray, our final stop of the evening was at the MLB Fan Cave. I tweeted (follow me @pittpeaswv!) mercilessly to its account to see if somebody would let us come take a tour to no avail. From the outside looking it, it looked like a cool place that any baseball fan would love to spend a season in..

Maybe next year I’ll sen in my application to be the next Mike O’Hara and whoever wins for this season.

Until then, I’ll enjoy my travels and I’m already planning 2012 trips.

Only Seattle’s Safeco Field, Toronto’s Rogers Centre and the other New York team, the Mets’ Citi Field are left.

Let him have it

 

ImageRyan Bruan was the best Major League Baseball player in 2011.

There — I said it.

Ryan Braun is my most hated Major League Baseball player — ever.

That was a little bit easier to say.

On Saturday, Braun accepted his first National League MVP award after leading his Brewers to the playoffs, all while hitting 33 home runs. He also had a batting average of .332 and an unprecedented OPS of .994 with a solid .597 slugging percentage.

What will cloud his rather remarkable season, though, is shame.

Braun tested positive for a banned substance in December, after he was already named MVP. Us Pirate fans rejoiced at the news. Of course, it was an opportunity to point a finger and laugh and the man who has helped torment this fan base in all of his five seasons in the league. It affirmed the speculation that something most definitely has been up with this guy, and it’s about time he was found out.

More so, it fueled the judgement of a doubting nation that the steroid-era is most certainly not over.

ImageBraun has long been a players advocate saying that he is clean and could be tested at any time to prove he’s truthful. Even with the confirmed allegations against him, he maintains his innocence. While it wasn’t necessarily a steroid or a Performance Enhancing Drug he tested positive for, Braun still broke the rules.

Still, he got on base, hit the home runs and led Milwaukee through an exciting season and playoff run.

For that, he deserves to keep the award.

Defending the honor won’t be so easy as Braun faces a 50-game suspension for, well, breaking the rules.

I’m not one to put an athlete on a pedestal, but they will always be looked up to. I don’t not cheer for guys that are proven jerks, convicted felons or smug to the fans. I root for players, not people.

But, I don’t pull for Ryan Braun.

The Brewers have long been Pirate killers. Since 2007, they are 38-4 against Pittsburgh. At the axis of the evil, Miller Park, Milwaukee won eight games when hosting the Pirates. There have been brawls, chin-music pitches thrown from each side and a 20-0 beat down within it all.

It has all been said and done, Braun is the 2011 NL Most Valuable Player, deservingly so. He also deserves a 50-game suspension for injecting/ingesting something that is illegal. He’s appealing it, but to take a page from Braun’s book when referencing getting beaned by Pittsburgh’s Jeff Kastens:

“We’ll see what the commisioner has to say about it.”

photo credits: washingtonpost.com, espn.com

 

Back in black…and gold

According to the 2011 Latest Leaders, The Pittsburgh Peas was the 14th most read mlblog over the past year.

Not bad for not posting in about three months.

I always strived to post a few times a week. That was made a lot easier when I was in college with plenty of spare time to spill my thoughts on the Pirates, baseball and life in general. Heck, studying and writing important scholastic papers took a backseat to this blog.

But now I’m in the real world.

Regular posting started to slow down this summer when I had an internship with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

Myself with Scrappers 1B Jarrod Sabourin

There were long hours in a fast paced environement, but I showed up to an office each day that over looked a baseball field. Couldn’t beat that.

Now, I’m back to writing — full time — at a newspaper. Sports writing as always been at the forefront of my career aspirations. I get to cover local sports with a much greater circulation than my college newspaper at WVU. I’m not sitting in a press box with top notch media from all over the country, but I still get to tell a story in my own words.

And now I’m really back to writing where I started with this blog.

The Pittsburgh Peas opened many doors for me, including the past two positions I’ve held. I’ve also connected with so many fans from all over the place, even meeting a few in person.

Doing "the peas pose" with Todd Cook and son, Tim, of http://cookandsonbats.mlblogs.com/

There are so many blogs out there that relay much of the same information on a team or story and I’ve prided The Peas on being much more than that. This is about my  experiences, my thoughts and, most importantly, those with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After all, this was the 14th most read blog for a reason.

So, I hope to get back into regular posting. I hated to see a gaping hole from October to December. With three years in the making, I let myself down for being a bit lax and letting The Peas fall by the wayside. We’re still in the dead of winter, but so many good times are ahead.

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