Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Pirates cure the winter doldrums

While December remains the “most wonderful time of the year,” this week in January isn’t far behind. 

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A pair of events in the Pittsburgh region help promote baseball in a time when below zero wind chills, winter weather advisories and 4-6 inch of snow projections are the norm. Heck, especially here in the surrounding areas of the Steel City there are other things to combat around this time of year. Pittsburgh is going to the Super Bowl!
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I’m not complaining one bit. I’ve posted facebook and twitter statuses saying “love ‘em or hate ‘em, you got to respect ‘em. People need to rationally realize that the Steelers are achieving amazing things. Come February 6th I will have witnessed my NFL team in four super bowls, an astounding feat. Some people, die hard fans of many teams may never get to see one.
I feel bad, but I guess its all trumped by the Pirates. I will have cheered for more Super Bowls than Pirates winning seasons. Unbelievable. The first three years of my life the Pirates went to the playoffs and obviously had an above .500 record. I don;t remember it, nor should I, but every year since then baseball has been regressing in Pittsburgh. 
It’s a story that unfolds with every blog post I have ever written and it is all too details to re- hash so I will save everybody the trouble of my personal depression with Pirates baseball.
Any who, I’m pumped. The Caravan was in Morgantown, WV this afternoon but I chose to be a good college student and attend class instead of seeing pitchers James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, second baseman Neil Walker, announcer Tim Neverett and pitching coach Ray Searage. I do get a second chance this evening 20 minutes up the road in Uniontown, PA. The guys are making a stop at 6:30 p.m. to sign autographs and chat with fans. 
For those interested, or those that find themselves board later this Monday night I will be tweeting live from the event. Follow me on twitter @pittpeaswv, for all kinds of updates and exciting thoughts, exciting in my mind, at least.
Also, this weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday Pirate Fest occurs. An indoor baseball carnival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, Pirate Fest is a yearly tradition and a very popular event, despite the lethargic fan base of baseball in the area. 
Following that Steelers win Sunday I am riding high. The Caravan and Fest will further fuel my joy and happiness and tells me the Pirates baseball is right around the corner. 
Maybe it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. 
photo credits: pirates.com, postgazette.com

Middle infielders have always been heart of Pittsburgh

globetrotters.jpgIf you were anything like me growing up there was always a few days throughout the year that we looked forward to most. Christmas, Birthdays and Opening Day go without saying, but there was always a time, usually in mid-January, when Youngstown, OH would get a little nutty. The world famous Harlem Globetrotters would pay a visit to YSU’s Beeghly for their famous act. 


As a kid, it was pure magic. The whole team of characters had their own personality and skills that put butts in the seats, but there was always two players that had me coming back year after year. The “showmen,” as they were called would be mic’d up and come out before the game to kind of warm up the crowd. With many antics and tricks up their sleeves the showmen would have me laughing all night. The game itself was really nothing more than what my friends and I tired to do in our driveway every day after school, but the showmen somehow brought it all together.

Kind of like the recent middle infielders of the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

While everyone has their favorite players, it always seems like the shortstop and second basemen receive a bulk of the attention a majority of the time. The Pirates have tried out many pieces at these two positions. Just like the showmen for the Globetrotters there are some that stick out more than others.

Here is a list of some of the past middle infielders for the Pirates since 2001:

Pat Mears
Warren Morris
Abraham Nunez
Jack Wilson
Enrique Wilson
Pokey Reese
Mike Benjamin
Jeff Reboulet
Bobby Hill
Jose Castillo
Freddy Sanchez
Luis Rivas
Brian Bixler
Neil Walker
Ronny Cedeno
Pedro Ciriaco

Some notable, others not. But everyone on that list made some appearances in Pittsburgh at the two “showmen” positions. Maybe its the flare and flash that is needed to be a quality middle infielders. Quick feet and hands are not the only attribute needed to be a showman. It also takes a vocal persona, intriguing backstory and all around love of Pittsburgh (see its not an easy role). But from the aforementioned core of 16 players, from my judgement only five up the middle players have earned the rite.

Here they are, each with their own personal and specialized title to describe their time in Pittsburgh.
Showman Emeritus: Jack Wilson

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Still nearly two full years removed from his departure from Pittsburgh, Jack Wilson is regarded as the favorite player of many fair-weather fans. He epitomized what it means to be a major league player. When he rose through the ranks in 2001 to be the opening day starter to open PNC Park nobody could have thought some seven years later he would define Pirates baseball in the decade of the 00’s. It was not only his jaw-dropping skills at shortstop that made him appealing it was his never say die attitude. Though he played in the heart of the Pirates 18-year losing streak, you never would of guessed it. No ball was off limits and he wanted to win night in and night out.
Creative Showman: Pokey Reese
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He didn’t wear the black and gold long but his time was marked with great happiness. Reese was a unique type of ball player. A hard nosed fielder, who like Wilson, was a human vacuum cleaner. He had one of the highest fielding percentages in the league while he played for the Pirates and was an improbable complement to Wilson. He was his own player, and although quiet, still was able to draw attention. Just look at the guy, he had the flare in his simple appearance with the cornrows and style. The bobble head pictured to the left was, and remains my personal favorite of the many promotional items given out at PNC Park over the years.







International Showman: Jose Castillo
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He was never quite understood in Pittsburgh, but was always consistent. He got lazy, especially at the plate, toward the end of his three year tenure, which overshadowed his solid glove work. Castillo spoke very little, if any English. I remember getting autographs from him throughout his time as a Pirate trying to converse with him, even in his native Spanish. Mind you, I was in my mid teens at the time and probably pretty juvenile with my adaptation of the language, nonetheless, Castillo was mute. He doesn’t exactly feel the love of Pittsburgh notion, but got the job done at second base to get him registered on this list. As his double play partner, Wilson kind of assisted Castillo’s well-being and development. It reminded me of a Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen tandem. Both made each other better.

Stunning Showman: Freddy Sanchez
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When I hear the mere mention of Freddy Sanchez, I get a smile on my face. He wanted to be a Pirate, Jerry Seinfeld, and countless big league ballplayers would never dream of it, but Sanchez yearned to be here. He gave it all. His blood, sweat and tears are still embedded in the PNC Park dirt. He was worth the price of admission and was the centerpiece for many memories for many fans. He was not only a ballplayer, but a quality family man, his kids and wife were as much a part of the club as he was. Always worth respect.
All-American Showman: Neil Walker
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The current showman for this team in ruins is Neil Walker. Known as the “Pittsburgh Kid,” he has something that not even Wilson and Sanchez had, he actually is from Pittsburgh! That fact alone makes him one of the most marketable players on the team, a needed fresh face. In just 127 games he has proven his many doubters that he will be the 2nd baseman for the Pirates for many years. His determination is his driving factor and that will soon give him fans from across the country. He now has a great reputation to carry forth leading a new generation.
It may not be the most notable group you could think of but its what defined Pittsburgh baseball throughout a dark time. Each guy had special attributes and a solid knack for the game of baseball. The past is in the past, but Walker has the chance to be a Wilson or a Sanchez. In fact, he has the opportunity to do what no showman has done before him, lead the Bucs to a winning season.
photo credits: energeticcity.ca, cantstopthebleeding.com, chicago.sbnation.com, postgazette.com, babeslovebaseball.com

Former No. 1 pick decides he overstays his welcome

 

krisbenson.jpgKris Benson announced his retirement Tuesday, quite frankly I thought he left the game of baseball years ago.

After being picked up by the Pirates with the No. 1 pick in 1996 he ended his career nearly 14 years later with a record of 70-75 and an ERA of 4.42. He had just one 10 win season in his injury laden career.

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He left Pittsburgh in 2004 when he was traded to the Mets in exchange for Jose Bautista. Benson faltered even more with another elbow injury in New York and from 2006 on he spent time in Baltimore and Texas but never amounted to even the miniscule success he found in Pittsburgh. It was reported that Benson was toying with the idea of signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of 2010 but the 36 year old felt it was in his best interest to offcially retire from baseball.

I don’t blame him.

The dissapointing career might not totally be his fault, though. Perhaps the only mistake he made was the fact that he agreed to sign with the Pirates back in ’96. He was just another pawn in the losing chess game otherwise known as the Pirates in the MLB draft.

Let’s start back in 1992, the last winning season for Pittsburgh and look year by year at the first round picks for the Bucs.

1992: Jason Kendall

1993: Charles Peterson

1994: Mark Farris

1995: Chad Hermansen

1996: Kris Benson

1997: J.J. Davis

1998: Clint Johnson

1999: Bobby Bradley

2000: Sean Burnett

2001: John Van Benschoten

2002: Bryan Bullington

2003: Paul Maholm

2004: Neil Walker

2005: Andrew McCutchen

2006: Brad Lincoln

2007: Daniel Moskos

2008: Pedro Alvarez

2009: Tony Sanchez

2010: Jameson Tailon

Four of those players are on the current Pirates roster, four spent ever-so bried stints in Pittsburgh, three look to be major pieces in building the next wave of successful baseball in the Steel City, one had a fruitful major league career, one currently is sweeping the bullpens in Washington and the rest probably haven’t been heard from since draft day.

Even though the Pirates, as well as Benson, have been losers for nearly two decades there is something Kris has that very few others do.

A lingerie model.

 

anna-benson.jpgPerhaps it was Anna Benson that made Kris famous in the end.

photo credits: foxsports.com, si.com

The Hall calls to the deserving and snubbed

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Last spring the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown welcomed me with open arms for a glorious day.

On Tuesday the Hall opened its doors to Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar to forever be immortalized in its hallowed shrine.
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One of the most colorful characters in Major League history sits atop his rightful place among pitching legends. Blyleven’s career spanned six teams and two World Series appearances, including one with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
This was his 14th year on the ballot with just a year remaining for his eligibility it was nearly a make or break campaign. He earned the needed percentage of votes by a fair margin and becomes the 60th player enshrined. 
Notoriously seen as a “Happy Gilmore” type player, Blyleven has made a name for himself in the pop culture realm. His famed “I Heart to Fart” shirt and off the cuff tangents in the broadcast booth never really hurt his image, but presented him as a hard nosed party boy. His mound presence was seen with the same intimidating sense. 
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Seeing Roberto Alomar get the Cooperstown call makes me feel old. He made his way onto the big league diamonds right around the time i was born. I do remember his Padres and Orioles days and although he will be adorning a Blue Jays cap on his plaque I think he will most be remembered by his time in Cleveland. With him at second and Omar Vizquel at shortstop they formed a double play combo that will forever be looked at as a benchmark for infielders. He brought fire and energy to the Indians during their glory days of the late ’90s and fans of the franchise still bask in those special years. 
Alomar is one of the first players that introduced me to baseball. Of course, there are a host of others, most notably irrelevant Pirates, but he was a centerpiece in developing my love for the game. It is exciting to see him be rewarded for an astounding career.
This years ballot consisted of many other players, much like Alomar. Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez and Fred McGriff. It is hard to believe that these stars of my childhood are being recognized with the ultimate baseball blessing. I knew at the time they were all the best of the era, but far from Hall of Fame performers. Maybe its just that my mindset of the Hall consisted of the legends. The Roberto Clementes, Hank Aarons and Sandy Koufaxes of the world, not players such as Bagwell, Larkin and McGriff.
While this is a feast day for the baseball world it is also a time of despair for some. Dave Parker missed his chance to be forever seen as baseball’s elite.
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The Cobra was snubbed for the 15th and final time and will see his name removed from the ballot and will never again be considered for Cooperstown. 
This is a shame. 
Now I never saw Parker play a game in my life, aside from the 2006 All Star Game Legends and Celebrity Softball Challenge held at PNC Park, but from what I hear he was superstar. Not only does being part of the famed “We-Are-Family” troop bring instant notoriety, but being an integral part of it gets you rewards. Parker was a two-time batting champion, all-star and league MVP, yet future generations will never know it. JIm Rice, inducted last year, but up less stellar numbers than Parker and got in. Parker had no such luck. In fact, he received a slap in the face as he was presented with just one measly vote. The same number as former Baltimore Orioles outfielder B.J. Surhoff.
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B.J. Surhoff? Honestly. 
It had to be depressing for Parker and it surely is for me. I want to be able to go to Cooperstown in the first weekend of August and see a player I fell in love with as a fan get inducted. While today it is an eye sore to even see a Pirate eek his way onto an All-Star roster, I don’t believe I will ever be granted a special moment to see one of my guys get enshrined. 
I still offer my congratulations to Blyleven and Alomar and will forever be grateful that we are fortunate enough to witness a great sport like baseball and see its stars properly honored. I cherish it, I really do. 
But I don’t think I will ever experience it with the proper boyhood joy.
photo credits: minnpost.com, apacktobenamedlater.com, corbisimage.com, baltimoresun.com

Merry Christmas

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From the Pittsburgh Peas to you; Merry Christmas! May this time of year be blessed with great joy and happiness as you all celebrate your own customs and traditions with your families. This is my favorite time of the year and my wish is that everyone can remember the reason for the season and experience all the goodness that comes from it. 

Merry Christmas to all!

PNC Park-just as beautiful in December

The bustling winds, fluffy white snow and bone chilling temperatures do not scream baseball. However, for my brother, Zach and I, a trip to PNC Park was just what we needed to cure our national pastime blues. 

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Just last week I pulled the trigger on a 20 game package for the 2011 season. For just $140 dollars I will be able to see 20 Pirate games in pretty darn good seats. 
We were allowed to go to the park last Saturday because of a special Christmas event for season ticket holders.
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Notice in the picture to the right I am not wearing that fresh Pirate jacket. This is the first picture we took in the day as we entered the park. The event was a shopping blow out sale for season ticket holders. Many items were available for purchase at heavily discounted prices. After a lot of shopping for others at this special holiday time, I splurged on myself for the jacket at a mere $40 bucks (it usually sells for $99). 
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We were greeted in the Pirate locker room by Santa Pirate Parrot! If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, he is definitely the best mascot in all of sports, put a Santa costume on him and he becomes the most festive mascot in all of sports. The Pirates locker room is the second largest clubhouse in all of Major League Baseball, fun fact for ya. It is behind just the New York Yankees. 
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Another ballpark mainstay graced us with his presence. Joe Klimchak, game day host at PNC Park and regular on Pirate commercials was there spreading cheers of Christmas and baseball. We all shared a productive conversation with topics ranging from gift ideas to new manager Clint Hurdle and from the current core of players to my own career aspirations. He is a guy that would be great to have a beer with.
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Now the Parrot and Joe are great. The Peaslee brothers must be great as well because the Parrot took a liking to us as you can see. Well, Kent Tekulve, famed Bucco pitcher from the 70’s was also there reminiscing about the golden age of Pittsburgh baseball. You can see in the background banners from the 1971 and 1979 World Series Championships, “Teke” was a part of those teams. He was also festive in his Christmas sweater.
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We were able to troll around the locker room and yep, we had a good time.
Some of the items up for sale, including our new jackets, were Pedro Alvarez T-shirts (he is changing his number from 17 to 24, so that may have been a driving force behind the price drop), other jackets, hoodies, Fatheads and many game used items. We also picked up dugout lineup cards from various games we attended. The cards are simple items but add to our priceless collection of baseball goods. Bats, jerseys, bases and balls were also there, including, for some odd reason, a Lastings Milledge autographed baseball for a mere $100 dollars. In all honesty, a ridiculous price, but nonetheless it took everything in my power to withhold buying it to honor a fallen comrade. 

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On our way out we were able to give well wishes to Hurdle on a dry erase board sitting outside his office. It may have offended some but I told him how I truly feel. My message read: “Go Bucs and goodl luck Clint from all your friends at West Virginia University!” 
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The time came to bid adieu to PNC Park but with only about 100 days left until opening day, we knew that before we know it, the day will come. The glorious sport of baseball will again be upon us and a rebirth of a season will come. 

From Over-Bay to Overbay

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Jason Bay will forever be one of my favorite MLB players. His time in Pittsburgh gave fans a small glimmer of hope that a superstar was among us. 
We are seeing now that he is just a puzzle piece to the larger picture of a more productive team (if you want to call the Mets a productive team). 
Anyway, it has been a couple of years since Bay was dished to the Red Sox, but it has taken some time to get over the slugger who played left field ever so well. 
Not necessarily an attempt to rid Pirates fans of the thoughts of Bay, but management has brought in another power hitter for 2011 that has long ball potential. 
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Lyle Overbay will be manning first base for Pittsburgh this coming year.
For 5 million dollars the Bucs picked up the viable bat. Now to some that may seem like a steal, in fact some off-season projections had sights set on Overbay at being a deal worth at least 6 million. The Pirates, however, cannot afford to be throwing that kind of money at a guy that isn’t going to be earth shattering. 
In fact, in my opinion, Overbay is a step back for this organization.
General manager Neil Huntington has long said that he will not sign in to the long, money hindering contracts former GM Dave Littlefield was notorious for offering to below average players. Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz and Ty Wigginton all quickly come to mind. 
Overbay is a glorified version of all three.
photo credits: cbc.com, getty images

Piecing it all together

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The select few of you readers who have stuck it out during my extended leave of absence know I have five passions in life. Three of them were on display last week at the Winter Meetings. 

Baseball
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Christmas
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Disney World
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By now you know that the Annual Baseball Winter Meetings were held at the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World complete with Christmas decor and good tidings. MLB Network was on my television nearly 24/7, that is when I wasn’t studying for finals or writing papers. Chris Rose and Kevin Millar were great on emceeing the entire week with great interviews and top notch reporting on the latest news. While the Pirates didn’t draw much of the attention, they surely made a splash for those that care in Pittsburgh. 
The Pirates were able to sign a pair of talented pitchers who will take a stab at making the rotation.
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Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen are now members of the Pirates. 
Yawn.
But in reality, a moves like these needed to be done. Starting pitchers were in short supply this offseason and the Cliff Lees of the world will not be patronizing PNC Park as their home anytime soon. Correia and Olsen complement each other and the team the best they can. 
Remember that superb pitching staff the San Diego Padres had last year? Yeah, Correia wasn’t a part of it. With an ERA upwards of 10 he was demoted to the bullpen throughout the Padres run to the playoffs that eventually fell short. He seemed to have improved towards the end of the year and will work, most likely, as a 4th or 5th starter in the Bucs rotation.  
Two DUI and assault cases later Olsen is gone from the Marlins and Nationals and is looking to revamp a brief successful career. When he’s been on the mound he has been effective but elbow injuries to his throwing arm have hindered him during the duration of his major league stint. He too will fight for a back of the rotation spot.
General manager Neil Huntington also did his part to bolster the offensive lineup. 
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Matt Diaz, former Brave, now looks to be patrolling right field for the Pirates in 2011. He will fight for playing time along with Garrett Jones. A strong spring could land him in a full time position, but the bench with spot starts may be his most useful position. 
The Pirates also had the first pick in the Rule 5 draft where they selected former Cleveland Indians prospect Josh Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a shortstop who can swing the bat, exactly what Pittsburgh needs. He’s in his mid 20’s and will probably remain at the AAA level. Some disappointments have arisen as other infielders such as Jason Bartlett and J.J. Hardy, both on the Pirates radar, slipped away to other teams. J-Rod may just be the perfect fit, though. A diamond in the rough, so to speak. 
WIth just over two months remaining until Spring Training other moves will surely be made. The Pirates have goals of adding some relievers and another bat is a necessity. 
photo credits: tbb.com, rhapsody.com, momknowseverything.com, piratesprospects.com
 

Clint Hurdle is the man for the job

 

clint1.jpgIn what Pirates President Frank Coonelly called an “exhaustive search process,” the Pittsburgh baseball club has their man.

Hurdle comes to the Steel City after being a part of two of the last three World Series. The batting coach for the Rangers, who happened to have the league’s highest team batting average is notoriously known for his tenure as manager of the Colorado Rockies. He was at the helm of the Rockies from 2002 until the beginning of 2009. In that time span he oversaw the development of young prospects such as Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes, Garett Atkins and Matt Holliday. That litany of potential is rivaled by that of the crop of youngsters the Pirates currently have now and the likes that are rising through the system.

clint2.jpg The experience and track record of Hurdle are one thing, but there are plenty more characteristics to attribute to this well rounded man.

Hurdle exudes confidence.

Even the harshest critics of the Pirates buy into the demeaner of Hurdle.

Ahem, Ron Cook.

Cook said, “He’s better than the franchise deserves.”

Hurdle has already implemented catchphrases that the Pirates marketing team needs to play on.

Describing his team as a “wolfpack,” Hurdle said he plans for everyone involved with the organization to go “all in.”

I’ve been all in 21 years of my life, Clint. I’m ready for more to join me.

Aside from his on the field duties, Hurdle is a family man.

His family of four is a tight-knit groupe for good reasons. His daughter suffers from Prader-Willi
clint3.jpg syndrome, a disease with 1 in 25,000 probability. Hurdle said a big reason why he chose the Pittsburgh job was to be close to specialized medical facilites in the city that cater especially to patients with the rare syndrome.

All in all, Hurdle took the job to meet objectives. He wante dto get back into managing and had a chance to take the Mets job. Both New York and Pittsburgh are in rebuilding situations but there is just something lucrative about bringing a forgotten team back to prominence. Hurdle sees that and wants to be the man to right the ship.

He has already began a grassroots campaign in Pittsburgh since it was announced he would be hired. Hurdle was seen Sunday at the Steelers game and Monday at the Penguins games. The Pirates play third fiddle in Pittsburgh so its good that Hurdle is petitioning for some noteriety. In the business thats called good public relations.

The Pirates really haven’t seen that in the last three, make the 18 years.

photo credits:postgazette.com, yahoo.com

 

Celebrities in the wake of greatness

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The Giants are taking the world by storm.

After the remarkable World Series win, San Francisco seems to be the mecca of baseball these days.

Rightfully so.

giants.jpgThese guys sure know how to party.

A reported 1.5 million were on hand last week for the parade celebration. Talk about coming in with style. Keeping with the famed cable car tradition of the beautiful city the team rode in on cable cars among ticker tape flowing by the thousands. Without a doubt a lovely display of black and orange.

The honor didn’t stop there.

Probably the most recognizable of all the champions is “The Beard” Brian Wilson.

brian_wilson_fear_the_beard_black_tshirt.jpgAlways notorious for his outlandish behavior, the playoffs gave him an outlet to let loose and get recognition. Described as a “real life Kenny Powers” by the good folks at TMZ, Wilson found his way into the mainstream after the World Series.

brian wilson.jpegWilson has helped bring in a new wave of baseball fans to the sport, in my opinion. His mentality and persona is unlike that of any player in the game today, really. It is refreshing to see a Rick Vaughn type “Wild Thing” take the mound to close out a game.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t flame out or end up in the California Penal League.

Another hero made his way to late night, my man Freddy Sanchez.
freddy.jpgI honestly got chills as I sat watching him take shots of Jameson on Lopez Tonight, with George Lopez. Aside from a cheap latino joke, Sanchez handled himself very well and looked like he embraced the limelight. In nearly every interview I have seen with him he always speaks at length about his time in Pittsburgh. He talked about how much he enjoyed being a Pirate after Lopez took a shot at the club. Lopez’s main objective was to divert attention away from Pittsburgh to talk about Sanchez being a Los Angeles native. Nonetheless, it was a brilliant five minutes and hopefully people begin to relaize once again that a Freddy Sanchez type human being are a dime a dozen.

Another classy Giant has to be MVP Edgar Renteria.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for er.jpgRenteria turned down an offer from his native Columbia. His country had asked to throw a parade for him honoring his MLB achievements. He respectfully turned it down and asked the money, time and effort be put towards that of helping flood victims in the area.

The Giants may not be where they were this year, next year. It will be hard to forget the memories and characters from the improbable victory, though.

photo credits: sacbee.com, yahoo.com

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