“Show Me” the way to a “Lone Star” champion

2011wsIt all comes down to this.

Two unlikely league victors do battle for the top spot in the greatest sport on Earth. One is a wild card, literally. The Cardinals were just an afterthought until September, but have beaten the best get here. The season has come fairly easy to the Rangers.They have been at the top virtually all year, but still were counted out when the pressure was on.

Well, the bright lights are on and all the naysayers sitting at home can only sit back and watch. Hopefully, they’ll watch because this isn’t exactly a must-see, casual baseball fan chomping at the bit type of World Series. But it should be. The Cardinals and Rangers deserve to play in this. Even though St. Louis does have 56 World Series game victories and Texas just has one, the two are near equivalents on the field. The 107th edition of the Fall Classic will indeed be one to remember.

It’s written the stars.

Only these aren’t a million miles away. Actually, they’re just 650 miles apart; the distance between Arlington and St. Louis.

Both lineups are full of star power. From top-to-bottom, they each sport a deep lineup.

With Ian Kinsler and David Murphy, the Rangers have guys that get on base. Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young bring them in.

Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina have been heating up for the Cardinals, while Jon Jay and David Freese have emerged as clutch performers.

If each had their go-to star, though, it’s Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz.

Pujols is Pujols. It can only be predicted, on baseball’s biggest stage, that he will deliver and adapt to anything thrown at him. Pujols tallied six extra-base hits and nine RBI in the NLCS. So, he’s going to do what he does best. After all, he is a machine.

Cruz is Cruz. He’s quite intriguing. The power hitter does just as the title suggests and Cruz surely made a name for himself with clutch HRs in the postseason. That’s exactly what it takes to win this time of year. Cruz has proven he has it and a .364 ALCS BA.

While the offenses are potent, pitching will do its best to silence the bats. Both staffs surely can.

Nothing really jumps out about the starting pitching.

Chris Carpenter

and

C.J. Wilson

are the aces and get the nod for Game 1. Carpenter is the more polished of the two and has found his success already with a complete game shut out of the Phillies in the NLDS. Wilson, on the other hand, has found his way into struggles. He’s pitched just over 15 innings in the postseason, but has surrendered 14 earned run. The bullpens are relatively dismal but each has guys that are trusted to get the job done. It’s Mike Adams, Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver versus Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas and Arthur Rhodes. A unique mix of old and young may give way in the Rangers favor.

At the end of the day, there really couldn’t be a more evenly matched match up. The everyday lineup of the Rangers proves to be stronger. Especially after losing it last year, they’re hungry to fit a shiny ring on their finger. The Cardinals seem to be more consistent, all around. The “us against the world” mentality is working for them. I think it will in the end, too.

St. Louis in six.

photo credits: betvega.com, yahoo.com, nyd.com, redbirdrants.com, bronxbaseballdaily.com, freeextras.com

Capping off 161

By now, we all know what happened. In fact, we’ll never forget it.

September 28, 2011 was a baseball lover’s dream. In make or break games, the true stars shined and those watching were priveleged to witness the game being played for a reason. Four teams were battling for their lives. The chance to keep playing the game they love, the game we love to pay and sacrifice to watch. They made sure the fans in the stands and the millions watching at home got their moneys worth.

It took extra innings, but the Braves couldn’t hang with the Phillies to live another day. Even when Philadelphia was bringing in their second hand specialties, Atlanta couldn’t get the job done. The Phillies really had nothing to play for. They had their playoff berth wrapped up weeks ago. But, Michael Martinez running in an all out sprint to deep center field to rob Chipper Jones of the walk off RBI showed that a fighting effort, day in and day out, is really the lifeblood of being a baseball player. That passion was just a small step against the favor of the Braves.

On the other side of the National League coin, The Cardinals did their part. But, before they could enjoy a politically correct Budweiser shower, they had to go out and dominant the lowly Astros. They did and when have to wait for a couple excruciating hours to see the Braves blow their chance of picking up the Wild Card or at least forcing a one-game playoff. It took an 8-0 win in convincing style for St. Louis to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Evan Longoria’s magical game assured the Rays would live to see October baseball in St. Pete. Actually, an improbable comeback by the Rays guaranteed another round of playoff baseball in Tropicana Field. They surmounted an unsurmountable 7-0 deficit in the 8th inning against the Yankees. Dan Johnson forced extras, and Longoria further etched his name in Rays lore with a grand slam, earlier in the game, and a walk off blast in the 12th inning.

Just a few minutes, literally, a few minutes later Big Papi was more upset than he was at the above balls and strikes call. Mother Nature finally let up in Baltimore and the sure-fire Red Sox win gave way to perhaps the most heartbreaking loss in franchise history. After all, whenever Jonathon Papelbon enters a game, especially one as high-pressured as clinching a playoff spot, its a guaranteed win. Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino made their names known and Carl Crawford made his tarnished. Then, this happened.

With the talk of Boston squandering a sizable lead in the final month of September and the drama surrounding the aforementioned Crawford, along with his manager, well, ex-manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein have floated on thin ice. The collapse of the Red Sox has taken over the MLB world. Questions of how could this happen? And, where do we go from here? They overshadowed the real praises of the night. The Baltimore Orioles pulled an improbable upset in front of a “home” crowd that was draped in red with hints of blue. Just look at them up there, playing the game of baseball the way it was meant to be played. It’d be hard to guess that it’s a 69-93 team on the final day of the season. Just a group of grown men, celebrating with the lifeblood of children. They may have been the real heroes of the night.

A night we will never forget.

photo credits: upi.com, jimrome.com, everyjoe.com, ajc.com, baltimore.com

PNC Park Field Day 2011

Pirates in-game host Joe Klimchak welcomed nearly 50 people to PNC Park on Sunday for the annual season ticket holder field day. It was my first time attending the event and Joe painted a vivid picture of how lucky we all were to be standing on the grass of The Most Beautiful Ballpark in America. From “getting chills driving through the Ft. Pitt tunnel, to describing how breathtaking every moment in the stadium really is, he surely pumped us up for a fun day of catching, fielding and hitting.

It’s hard to believe just a few minutes earlier, baseball was an afterthought.

You see, it was a football Sunday. A Steelers football Sunday to be more exact. And, if were getting technical, it was a Steelers football opening day Sunday. In Pittsburgh, everything else comes secondary on any given Sunday in the Fall. The Steelers reign supreme and everyone knows it.

Everyone except for my buddy Andrew and me.

He joined me on the field (and here in the dugout) for two hours that we will never soon forget. In my first year as a Pirates partial season ticket holder, I have received many perks. The field day was just one of them.

We were able to step up to the plate for some batting practice.

Andrew was able to put two balls in play, after a few hacks.

I, on the other hand, went 0-for-8. Now, I can go on saying “oh, it harder than it looks.” We already know it is. But I don’t have an excuse for my pitiful showing. A 12 year old kid in front of me was able to ground it out of the infield, at least. It was funny because those waiting in line, mostly middle aged guys and their sons, were impressed by anyone that made contact, and ranted and raved for anyone that actually got a hold of one to the shallow outfield. All hits would have been easy Major League outs, but who cares? We were all there to live out our big-time dreams.

In the outfield, Andrew and I played catch.

And robbed home runs of course.

This was probably the coolest part of the day because we acted out situations in all corners of the gapping PNC Park outfield. From the indentation of the “North Side Notch” by the bullpens, to scaling the six foot wall, seen above, in left field, and playing ricochets off the fence in right field, we were roaming it all and making plays. And, as Joe instructed, we kept centerfield “just the way Andrew McCutchen left it” with the utmost care and respect.

I was able to get up close and personal with the Chuck Tanner memorial in right-center field. Unveiled on opening day, the Tanner jersey is the to honor the Pirates former manager who passed away over the winter. I wonder if the organization will keep it there for years to come? It will be a nice gesture if they do.

Andrew, a die-hard Yankee fan by trade, was most happy to touch a piece of New York. Already preparing for this weekend’s series, the Pirates placed the match ups for Friday-Saturday-Sunday on the out of town scoreboard. Boston does indeed travel to the Bronx for a three game set against their arch-rivals.

I met some new friends at the event. All of my fellow season ticket holders were very friendly and open to chat. After all, we are in it together. This Pirates season has surely been up-and-down, but we created great memories that we will carry into next year. Randi Hoffman isn’t a season ticket holder, but she is involved with the Pirates as a “PR face” for the organization. Along with Joe, she appears on commercials and online videos. Not only is she a pretty face, she is very nice too. Her and Joe make a perfect team. I would love to join them someday as a third wheel to promote the Bucs. That is my dream job.

Before leaving the field, we posed in a variety of baseball specific moments.

A manager observing his team.

A perturbed manager calling to the bullpen.

Attacking the Gatorade cooler.

Embracing the adoring crowd for a curtain call.

It may not be a world-famous baseball scene, but it should jog the memory of Pittsburgh fans.

Any ideas?

Eh, a little off. But my intentions were good. The Pirates gave out this Andrew McCutchen canvas wrap to all fans at a game last year. It’s a game I’ll remember forever as it was the night I met my girlfriend, Erin.

The staff had a great lunch provided after the event. Food included traditional ballpark fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers and pop. They also had ice cream sandwiches. It was probably the first time I actually ate an ice cream sandwich since the ice cream man came driving down my street in his truck back in 1998.

Before going back to our car, we were tempted.

The buzz around town was still for the Steelers and we milled around some tailgates and took in the sights at Heinz Field.

Art Rooney greeted us outside the gates and we peeked inside.

The sellout crowd saw the Steelers pound the Seahawks 24-0.

I am a Steelers fan. They’re cool and all. But, I’ve been spoiled. After seeing playoffs year in and year out, not to mention four Super Bowl appearances with two wins to boot, it gets old. I like college football so much more than the NFL. And I would trade all the Steelers success for the littlest thing the Pirates could achieve; a winning season.

The Bucs are always No.1 for me and the Field Day was just one example of how the fans are No. 1 for the Pirates.

Let’s Go Bucs.

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.

Raw deals from Jerry Meals

It was a game I honestly didn’t want to end.

Nearing 2 a.m. on a Tuesday/Wednesday morning, I had to be up in a mere 5 hours to be at work at 8:30. Still, nothing was going to let me fall asleep.

Nine innings turned into 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. Before we knew it 18 and a half innings passed and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves were still ready to play on until the wee hours of the night.

Home plate umpire Jerry Meals was not.

Looming directly over the plate, Meals called Julio Lugo safe on a play that more than likely would have sent the game to the remarkable 20th inning. Now, it was just the second out, but batter Scott Proctor fell running towards first and catcher Mike McKenry would have gotten him out with an easy throw over.

It was the call that sparked a revelation . A revelation not only experienced by those involved on the field, but the loyal fans of both teams. Twitter was a sight to behold last night with hundreds upon hundreds of people weighing in on the hottest of the hot button issues to occur in baseball, this season.

From @SBerthiaumeESPN: WOW….WOW. I know Jerry Meals worked all 19 innings behind plate, but I’ve never seen a key call missed by THAT much!

From @PeytonsHead: OMG….I’ve not watched the end of a MLB game all year, and when I do, a team gets robbed. Sorry PIT fans, ATL stole that one.

From: @JamesSantelli: I’m literally shaking. I can’t believe that a great game like that ended with possibly the worst call at home plate I’ve ever seen.

From: @ajcbraves: That may be the worst call I’ve ever seen. No, it is. Worst call I’ve ever seen. Unbelievably bad. Braves win on horrendous safe call.

The shocked tweets turned into groundbreaking hashtags. #jerrymealssaysitssafe has turned into a worldwide trending topic with Pirates fans, Braves fans and total non-baseball fans chiming in to express their outrage.

That one single play will forever be etched in the minds of Pirate fans for quite some time, that’s for sure. But for the loyalists to just remember this travesty will never be enough to make a difference. Manager Clint Hurdle made his case, McKenry surely did, too. But this moment needs to be taken to the forefront of Commissioner Bud Selig’s office.

Sadly, it may be too late.

Meals already released his statement on the issue. “”I saw the tag,” he said after the game. “I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area,” he continues. “I’m guessing he might have got him.”

He doesn’t admit defeat, though.

“But when I was out there when it happened I didn’t see a tag, I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.”

This is what bugs me the most. As evident in the above picture, Meals is in a perfect position to make the right call. jabs at umpires have long been spewed about across the league, and a major fuel backing that up is that umps just are simply out of their element and not situated in the right place to make the fairest call.

Meals was, but still acted upon anything but fair intentions.

Also, the second culprit of “blow call-gate,” Julio Lugo, isn’t off the hook, either. His actions and mannerisms at the time of the tag were just as disheveled as any player would following a being out by a mile. It wasn’t until he saw Meals outstretched arms that he celebrated.

Lugo was just as stunned as everyone watching.

His post game comments suggest otherwise, but no player would cave in to the opponent after a marathon game like that.

Like Jim Joyce before him, Jerry Meals is not going to be fading away any time soon. He will forever be linked with making one of the worst calls in the history of the game and hindering the Pirates from inching just a little bit closer to their fateful season of destiny.

photo credits: sportsgrid.com, Root Sports, Yahoo.com

Quotes credits: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peas in the Big Apple

A yearly summer tradition, the Peaslee family is packing up and heading out for a baseball adventure.

New York City is the destination and Yankee Stadium will be out 27th ballpark as part of our annual baseball vacations.

Be sure to check back next week for a full recap of our weekend!

photo credits: everyjoe.com, multiinvestor.com

First Place

Myself, and every other baseball-obsessed person in the world woke up to this, this morning.

First place.

Magic number to clinch the Central is 68.

Let’s Go Bucs!

 

Why fix what isn’t broke?

You can’t please everyone. This is evident in the discussions of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

Much of the blame is placed on the shoulders of this guy, Commissioner Bud Selig. Rightfully so, he is the man in charge and stemming from the ASG fiasco of 2002 in Milwaukee, there is a right to be warry of his decisions. He has drawn much scrutiny from his management of the league, but the All-Star Game is not something that has fallen through the cracks.

It is the premier star-studded showcase for premier players in any major sport. It is treated like it, too. The controversy and speculation surrounding the game are unlike in any other sport.

That means people are paying attention.

Many of the criticims the game itself faces are mere suggestions that I feel would hinder the meaning and tradition of baseball’s mid-season spectacle. For example, I am very much pleased with all 30 teams being represented. It may take away a chance for a player with better numbers to be snubbed, but what reason would a die-hard fan of a lowly team have to even watch the game? And to truly be a Major League Baseball All-Star game, shouldn’t every team in Major League Baseball be represented?

I heard the rumblings from some national pundits saying “Are Royals fans really that excited for reliever Aaron Crow to be in Arizona?” I think they are. They can buy his American League jersey, honor his acknowledgement and watch intently during the game to see if he gets in.

Other brash suggestions have been doing away with the fans vote.

How ’bout no.

This is a game for the fans and the players who start the game should be elected by the fans. It’s who they want to see in the game. Also, it’s more than likely that the players they want to see in the game will be selected anyway. I think the bigger honor is actually being selected by the manager of the team and the players. They know baseball and are more respectable than those punching ballots at stadiums or voting thousands of times online. Plus, the starters will not play many innings in order to get an also deserving player in the game.

Which brings me to my next point.

One radio host said he would like to see the starting players go at least six or seven innings in the All-Star Game to put their respective team in the better chance to win.

Why?

I watch the game to see a crop of players playing together that I normally do not see on a nigh-in, night-out basis. I anticipate the substitutions to see these guys get some hacks out of their natural game routine and element.

And, of course, to see a Pirate like Andrew McCutchen.

He only hit a slow dribbler back to the mound and was easily out at first in his only at bat of the contest. Still, seeing him come in to replace Matt Kemp in the 8th was a thrill. I know the feeling is mutual among all baseball fans who enjoy seeing their guys in the big game.

McCutchen was in the game to record the final out from pitcher Brian Wilson and walked off Chase Field a winner in his first of what many predict to be many All-Star Game appearances.

Two other Pirates made the team, as well. Kevin Correia and Joel Hanrahan were represented as two of the top pitchers in the National League. Hanrahan deserved to be there, Correia really did not.

Each in their first All Star Game, the duo were two of 84 players that made the trip to Arizona. In other words, entirely too many members known as All Stars.

The one rule, or obligation, I have against the game is the quantity of players there. It can be fixed with one simple tweak. Letting the pitchers that pitch Sunday be eligible for the All Star game. If worries about rest still arise, just move the game back a day to Wednesday. It is an off day, anyway. All of Major League Baseball should have Monday off, do the Home Run Derby Tuesday, play the game itself Wednesday, then have another day off on Thursday. Half the teams do anyway, why not grant every team a properly earned day of rest. The second half will always be a grueling one, four full days to prepare and focus is proper and should be granted.

Nonetheless, the game is a staple for the American Summer and should be honored with all its tradition.

The game, although a blow out in Midsummer Classic terms, was very entertaining and provided much to cheer about.

Prince Fielder was the most outspoken character of All Star week andrightfully so performed on the biggest stage. As much as it pains me to say it, congrats and thank you for helping display baseball at its finest on a hot summer night.

photo credits: yahoo.com

Baseball lawl

It’s been nearly three weeks since I’ve been to a Major League Baseball game. What’s the best way to fix that?

Go to three in one week.

I got back in the groove by hitting Progressive Field in Cleveland for a 4th of July celebration and went to two games in my beloved Pittsburgh summer home of PNC Park.

Slider came to the park on Monday, July 4, in his best red, white and blue outfit. But, my buddy Andrew and I stuck with a special kind of patriotism. He is a well-documented Yankees fan and a loyal supporter of my Pirates. When the Yankees come close to Northeast Ohio, he makes every effort to attend a game. The last time he saw his time live and in person was two years ago, though.

I can’t imagine that.

Only getting to see your team one every handful of years is quite the misfortune. Having grown up in great proximity to Pittsburgh, I have attended over 20 games almost every year these past two decades. That feeling of being at the ballpark live is probably the biggest explanation of why I am such a big fan. For that reason, I feel the need to support Andrew and his Yankees.

I borrowed one of his many NY hats and was set to be a part of the Brox Bomber brethren.

What’s unique about the Yankees is their aura. There is a sense of pride, although it is much stronger than that, among the fan base and the team itself. Standing just 10 feet away from legends during batting practice gave me an indescribable  feeling. Jeter, Rodriguez, Cano, Sabathia, even Swisher, these are media darlings that can be identified by nearly anyone who follows sports from coast to coast. No other team can boast what the Yankees can and from that I don’t feel any hatred. It’s not even a jealousy, it’s simple respect. I think it takes a true baseball fan to realize what the Yankees stand for and look past the notions of “ruining baseball” and “Yankees Suck.”

Clearly, they don’t.

I was lucky enough to snap some great pictures of Yankees players during BP as Andrew was content just yelling out to his heroes and holding out hope that one may stop over, say hi, and sign an autograph for some of the hundreds waiting patiently.

Curtis Granderson

Alex Rodriguez

Nick Swisher

Brett Gardner

Robinson Cano

But this day was for Derek Jeter.

The 4th was Jeter’s first game back from a DL stint and the reception he received from the faithful was overwhelming. Signs and shouts to the shortstop were all positive until his first at-bat.

The Indians fans booed him mercilessly.

Sitting just six hits shy of 3,000 we knew we had the potential of seeing a simple path on the road to history. We didn’t as Jeter went 0-for-4.

The game itself was an unbelievable game, especially coming from a 3rd party fan, myself. The Yanks were no-hit through six innings but would falter in the end. The atmosphere was electric in the park. Anytime a club beats the Yankees can be special and with the way the Tribe has been playing, it could be the cornerstone to a strong second half.

The joyous sounds of Americana graced the park as fireworks filled the night sky. Baseball on the 4th of July is as true to this country as you can get. Like the scene out of The Sandlot, we got a sight of awe and wonder as over 40,000 people basked in a perfect evening.

I wanted to make the next night even better.

I was back at my park, PNC Park.

The way the Bucs have been playing, all of Pittsburgh has caught the baseball fever. A sold out crowd on Independence Day saw a huge Pirate win over the Astros. I wanted to see an encore on Tuesday. Nearly 20,000 other did, as well. A crowd like that was unheard of over the past eight or so years. More than 9,000 people walked up to get tickets, too. While the buzz has been palpable, I turned my back, somehow.

Yes, that is me in a Pirates hat. Oh, you noticed the Astros jersey, too? Let me explain.

Craig Biggio is one of, if not, my most favorite ballplayer. He was nitty, he was gritty and he played the game with the heart and integrity that little leaguers, like myself at the time looked up to. Recently, I pulled the trigger on the jersey to honor this idol in my baseball life.

Please tell me that’s acceptable.

I had to give that same song and dance to at least five other Pirates fans at the game. Everyone obliged and actually respected me with a slew of high fives and fist bumps. I simply said, “I’ll probably wear this jersey seven times in my life. This is one of the most appropriate times.”

Well, I’m not one to believe in superstitions but Biggio brought Pittsburgh luck as the Buccos raised the jolly roger.

I went back to the yard on Saturday. Something else was raised then.

The Cubs were victorious and maybe Northsiders made the trip to the North Shore, brining their own rowdy rags.

While the end result was not pleasant, the 39,000 in attendance were treated to the most surreal moment in PNC Park history.

A slow roar grew into a loud yell as a message was displayed on the jumbotron during catcher Mike McKenry’s at-bat in the 4th inning.

Snubbed for a week, Andrew McCutchen finally caught word that he was heading to Pheonix for the All Star Game. The crowd was loud and rose to their feet, triggering McCutchen out of the dugout to acknowledge the crowd. A curtain call and he wasn’t even at the plate! His next at-bat was eerily similar. The adoring fans rose once again in a standing ovation for number 22 getting the recognition we all knew he deserved.

The scoreboard also displayed another important message.

Just as in Cleveland, this drew a mixed reaction. I yelled and clapped profusely. Again, I’m not a Yankees fan by any stretch of the imagination, I just respect historic feats and the Yankees are pretty good at recording them. I was lucky enough to have watched his momentous 3,000 hit on mlb.tv with my dad, earlier in the day. It was an unfathomable event I won’t soon forget.

After being away from the game I love, I think this week drew me back to what I have known all along. I’m a rare breed. We all are-anyone reading this. Baseball is a game that can only be appreciated by those who cling to it. It will always have its naysayers, they simply do not know what they are missing. No sport provides the magic, memories or momentum that baseball does. Honestly, that’s why I feel the Pirates are doing so well this season. Those three M’s have all come together and created a fourth-moments. Baseball is full of them, each pitch to be exact. Some are good and some are bad. With 162 games there is enough time to experience a lot of both.

Obviously fans want to see more good than bad, but to those who grasp the full circle of the game, the good comes a bit easier.

That’s the mark of a true Pirates fan, in a nutshell.

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