Results tagged ‘ Neil Walker ’

Just like the chance of rain in Pittsburgh, the Pirates are threatening

By a show of hands, how many people check the weather reports first thing in the morning? 

Obviously I can’t see the response, but I’m certain a grand majority of you readers do. On any given night in the Pittsburgh area, rain is a common theme. I have to be sure to check, re-check and for good measure, check yet again on nights I anticipate going to PNC Park. Nearly every night has been at least a 40-60 percent chance of precipitation. In fact, two games I was all set to go to were rained out. 
My luck changed Saturday.
With a 60 percent chance of rain, 32,298 other people joined me in the stands to witness a  6-1 Pirates victory. 
It was my first win at PNC Park this season. 
The Pirates have taken notice as it jump started a three game winning streak, at home nonetheless. Each game has been relatively equivalent to each other with strong starting pitching, quick defense and clutch hitting late in the game. 
Charlie Morton went 7.2 innings with five strikeouts giving up just one run on Saturday.
James McDonald earned a career high eight strikeouts and let up three hits in 6 innings in a 5-4 win on Sunday.
Jeff Karstens continued the trend going 5.2 solid innings allowing just one run to set up a 4-1 victory on Monday. 
While Saturday was the only sure fire contest, Sunday and Monday were come from behind affairs. Ryan Doumit’s three-run blast set the Pirates ahead in the eighth inning in honor of Mothers Day. On Monday, also in the eighth, Neil Walker began a hit parade scoring Xavier Paul on an RBI double. Lyle Overbay followed suit with a RBI double of his own. To conclude the scoring, Doumit came through again. He ripped a double down the right field line scoring Overbay. 
The win put Pittsburgh at 18-17.
Yes, that is indeed a game over .500. 

On the offensive

I’ve been to three Pirate games thus far, this season. The young season has not treated me well, personally, as I am 0-3 when seeing live games.

Pittsburgh has been outscored 19-5 in those games.
The offense was looked at as an emerging force in the preseason as a young group of hitters were polishing off solid seasons in 2010. While players such as Jose Tabata (.310 BA, .420 OBP) and Neil Walker (11 RBI, .517 SLG) have anchored the top of the lineup, shortcomings from Pedro Alvarez (20 Ks, .197 BA) and a slump from Andrew McCutchen (2-for-30 in at-bats entering Sunday) hindered the team from getting proper production. 
Most of it has changed this series against the Reds. 
On Friday the Pirates scored six runs en route to a 6-1 victory. 
Sunday, Pittsburgh notched seven runs to sneak by with a 7-6 win. 
Players, other than those aforementioned, have stepped up and delivered to put these bigger numbers on the board.
Of course, they would do it on the road, when I’m not there.
Chris Snyder has gone 3-for-7 in these two wins. 

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After starting the season on the disabled list, Snyder was penciled in behind the plate, right away, moving Ryan Doumit to a bench spot. His production has been consistent to open his season which should keep him in the starting lineup for a majority of games from here on out. His biggest asset is not at the plate, though, it’s behind it. Pitchers rave about his quality of calling games and he played a big part in Charlie Morton’s complete game against the Reds on Friday.
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In a platoon with Matt Diaz in right field, Garrett Jones has had his back against the wall. His decline in power had the front office concerned, but now he is beginning his comeback campaign. Jones has it two homers in the series and brought his average up to a respectable .282. Diaz has struggled to sustain a presence at the plate. So, it may play to Jones’ advantage is he continues to produce consistently. He may just get that starting job back.
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If Jones and Diaz both falter another viable option is waiting in the wings. John Bowker is trying to find his identity on the Bucs. He hasn’t been the first used pinch hitter of the bench, so far, but that decision may change quickly. He brought in the winning run in the top of the 8th inning, Sunday. Bowker drilled a 2-out pitch to deep center field that could have been a home run in other ballparks, while adding further insurance with just that one swing of the bat. 
Prior to the Reds series, manager Clint Hurdle tinkered with the lineup to make a change.
It was needed.
As I said before, the offense was dormant to open the season at home. My three games were pitiful and beyond that, the funk at the plate scorned the early optimism that many fans accumulated. Hurdle moved McCutchen up to the leadoff spot from the three hole. Tabata will bat second, with Lyle Overbay third. Walker is now the cleanup hitter dropping from the two hole. 
These moves paid off as more runs were produced, save for Saturday’s 11-2 beat down. As Tabata has proved he is the best hitter on the team, the second spot is the perfect fit for him. He is 5-for-14 in the new spot. McCutchen began his new role with an 0-for-5 performance, but has since proved that his natural position is where he wants to be. He led off Sunday’s game with a home run. Walker isn’t the most natural cleanup hitter. He doesn’t have the most power on the team, although he does have three dingers. But, No. 2 wasn’t ideal for him, either. He strikes out too much and that is not the best liability to have in a two hitter. 
The Pirates will stay in Cincinnati for a Monday game to close out the series. A win would pit them back at the .500 mark going to Florida to do battle with the Marlins on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then it’s back home to host the Nationals over Easter weekend. I will be in attendance for one of those games ready to be entertained with some offensive action. 
photo credits: postgazette.com, bleacherreport.com, daylife.com

Home Sweet Home


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There may not be a more refreshing sight that will grace the PNC Park jumbo tron, this year.

Aside from a playoff picture, of course. 
Thursday brought opening day to PIttsburgh and along with it came an enthusiasm that has rarely been replicated in the ten years of PNC Park. People were excited.
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The energy outside the stadium was almost like a college football tailgate party. Upon my arrival to Pittsburgh around 10 am, Thursday, parking spaces were scarce. There were lawn chairs spread out, corn hole bean bags flying and cold beers being drank. A wonderful sight as many people chose to take an old fashioned sick day and mosey on over to the ballpark. It is a tradition unlike any other.
I was excited to connect with many people I have met through the glory of Pirates baseball and set aside much time just to take it all in. Opening Day is unlike any other in the season. Obviously, no matter who are primary team is, this day is special. But for the Pirates, there aren’t many more games like it. Without a legitimate playoff hope in the past decade, it is hard to sustain the optimism over the course of the grueling schedule. 
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The above picture signifies the feeling of the torment that is winter, the despair that the bleak weather will never subside and we won’t be able to experience the glory that is baseball season. I am here to testify that we truly can be at peace again.
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The glory can be felt throughout the field of green and even more so by the members of each club that often go under appreciated. Opening Day is the only time during the year that the head trainers, clubhouse managers and even massage therapists get their recognition in front of a sold out crowd. In Pittsburgh, it was the second largest in park history, 39,290. 
Erin and I were debuting in our new seats for the year, a pair of 20 game plans in section 322, row B, seats 1 and 2. Now, in most other ballparks that section may roll some eyes. For us, it was perfect. At just $140 we are secured for a fun-filled summer at the Best Ballpark in America. Indeed it is. 
While spirits were high and Pittsburgh was joined together in baseball unity, the team could not feed off the energy and fell 7-1 behind an un-spirited pitching performance from starter Paul Maholm and the bullpen. After back-to-back hits from Jose Tabata and Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen tallied a RBI. Even though things seemed to be looking up, six straight innings without a hit dug the offensive hole for the Pirates.
Friday night erased all negative thoughts of the day before.
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The smiling faces and happy thoughts seemed to have exploded from the gallows of uncertainty. The pitching shortcomings of the night before far exceeded themselves against the Rockies on Friday. Ross Ohlendorf did give up a 3-run homer to Jason Giambi, but those were the only runs to cross the plate for Colorado. It took 14 innings but a double from Jose Tabata scored Josh Rodriguez to give the Buccos their first win at their own digs in 2011.
It still remains the only one as they dropped the next two games against the Rockies.

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Saturday night was WVU day at the park, a project I helped organize with other members of the graduating Public Relations class interested in sports communications. It was a great opportunity to get our foot in the door and was a rewarding endeavor. 
It was also fireworks night. While they entertained in the night sky above beautiful downtown Pittsburgh, the real explosions came in the left field bleachers.  
Saturday nights are a time when PNC Park is usually packed, packed with idiots who don’t know how to understand baseball and were never taught how to behave in public. A large group of fans in the bleachers began chanting “USA, USA, USA,” to what I believed was a mocking response to Rockies reliever Rafael Betancourt, a native of Venezuela. 
In fact, it was an unruly fan who was escorted out of the stadium not before resisting arrest and assaulting a stadium usher. Why the patriotic cheers? Well, he was wearing a very outlandish red, white and blue jumpsuit that had USA stitched on the chest. Not exactly what I deem to be proper ballpark attire, anyway. Videos of the event can be seen on youtube, including one shot by fellow MLBlogger, Erik Jabs.http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com 
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National media outlets have picked up on the event. Sportscenter and the New York Daily News have featured it. The fan was reluctant to obey the orders instructed to him by the Pittsburgh cops. A taser was induced with no effect as he wasn’t going to the ground. This forced police to draw nightsticks and mercilessly beat the man to the ground. People are calling this excessive force and police brutality, I call it making an example of a goon. You listen to the police, no matter who you are or what you may have did or didn’t do, you act with respect when confronted by cops. This guy did the far opposite and had this embarrassment coming.  
With a fresh seri
es against the Brewers coming up this week, I plan on returning to my summer home to catch some more baseball. We all have a special place where we need to go to take time off, relax and be entertained. For ten years, PNC Park has been my spot. With 78 more home games to go I plan on enjoying every single one I get to go to, win or lose. 
photo credits: pirates.com, nydailynews.com

Optimism stems from Wrigley win

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Until today, only one player had hit a grand slam on Opening Day.
That was Roberto Clemente.
It was only fitting that the new “pride of the Pirates” would launch the first four run bomb since 1962. It was the framework for a 6-3 Pittsburgh victory in Chicago. 
The top of the 5th inning proved to be a critical frame with pressing at bats coming from the guys in front of Walker. The inning began with Ryan Doumit reaching second base. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno drew a walk even after falling behind quickly, 0-2. Pitcher Kevin Correia laid down a beautiful bunt which moved the runners over. Another walk from leadoff man and left fielder Jose Tabata loaded the bases.
After a six pitch at bat, Walker dropped a bomb on Sheffield Ave.
Andrew McCutchen had a dinger of his own giving the Bucs every single run off of home runs. Sevem total hits came timely as every one was crucial to make a statement in the opening win.
It’s just what the Pirates need.
Many fans are dragging their feet into this season expecting the same-old-same-old. You can’t blame them after 18 years it’s hard to find a silver lining. Even in the dreary and overcast skies of Chicago today, you could see sparks of brilliance that are ready to stay. 
It’s just one game but collective smiles are on many faces who bleed black and gold. It opened eyes and may have shown that there truly is promise on this team. At post game interviews, manager Clint Hurdle talked about “joy.” The team needs to enjoy this. Special things could happen and while this win may not set the tone for the rest of the season, it certainly can’t hurt.
So Pittsburgh, be happy. It’s Opening Day, after all. 
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Let the Madness begin

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Greetings from Hartford, Connecticut!
Currently, I am here alongside some colleagues from the WVU student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, to cover the West Virginia women’s basketball team and the rest of the Big East in the conference tournament.
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After game one, the Mountaineers downed the Cincinnati Bearcats 66-41. From my spot on press row I am now watching the Pitt women square off against Marquette. 
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Thus far, the weekend has provided many great chances to watch some good basketball. The Big East, notorious for its men’s basketball dominance isn’t half bad 

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on the girl’s side either. 
Plus, girl’s basketball, in my opinion, is the game at its

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 purest form. There’s very little need for flash or over bearing skill moves. For young kids watching basketball based on set plays, tight defense and solid shooting; women’s basketball is where its at. 
It really has been a great opportunity to cover the series and wish the best of luck to the Mountaineers. I want to be in Hartford a while. Quaint, vintage looking town and the access is great. Look for coverage of the tournament on http://www.thedaonline.com.
The madness has indeed begun in Florida, too. Baseball spring training has heated up and teams are starting to come together in preparation for the real festivities to begin in late March and early April. 
The Pirates are no exception. 
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Lyle Overbay is not only hamming it up for the camera, he is, as the kids say, going ham on opposing pitchers. In the Pirates 4-3 win over the Phillies Overbay collected three hits, a double being one of them. The newly acquired first baseman also scored a pair of crucial runs. 
He isn’t the only one performing well.
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Neil Walker belted his first home run of the spring on Saturday.
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Jose Tabata has been blazing around the base paths with three steals in the past week.
Right now, Pittsburgh stands at 5-4 against Major League clubs. Its game tomorrow against the Blue Jays will be televised regionally on Root Sports. A national audience can catch it on MLB Network later in the day. 
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Well, its back to the basketball action for now. But not far from now the Opening Day decorations will be laid out among all 30 ballparks. 
You can see the XL Center in Hartford is already excited for the occasion. 
photo credits: bucsdugout.com, washingtonpost.com

Buccos hit the road

The Pirates took their show throughout the tri-state are of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia this past week. The region that I like to call “my home.” The Youngstown-Pittsburgh-Morgantown area is where I’ve grown up and have many memories throughout. 

I created a new one in Uniontown, PA on Monday. 
Buddies of mine took the quick, 20 minute trip from Morgantown up and were spooked by the odd nature of the city. I’ve been to Uniontown before but am always taken aback by the unique, but odd set up of the city. Its almost like a big crater is splashed in the middle of town and a cross section of one way roads make it disturbing to drive around. 
The event was held at the Uniontown Mall and was to start at 6:30 p.m. 
We arrived precisely at 6:30 and found that nearly 300 people beat us to the punch. 
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Bet you didn’t think Roberto Clemente would show up. The wait was actually enjoyable as its not often you find hundreds of people decked out in Bucco gear together in one place. Not just in January, its sparse in the middle of summer at PNC Park, too. In the line we mingled with other patrons sharing stories of memories at the park. Pirate fans are such a close knit community. However, you find three distinguished groups. The first being the die-hards. I have a blog. I am a die-hard. These also include people at the Caravan who know the players, can understand what the front office is doing in an attempt to get the Pittsburgh baseball train back on its tracks and the people who cheer for wins and success at games they attend, watch on TV and wins in off season moves. The second are fans. They really are. The Penguins and Steelers come first but they are loyal because its a sporting event in the city they love. These people are uneducated, but need to be appreciated, nonetheless. Thirdly are the imbeciles who take any opportunity to trash the Bucs and everything that has to do with baseball. There is no hope or willingness to believe that one day the Pirates will be respectable. 
I despise that third group, almost as much as the Phillies and the University of Pittsburgh-it runs deep. 
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Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.
As we approached the line, we were there for a little more over an hour, we were greeted by Tim Neverett.  
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The Pirates broadcaster has a beaming personality to go along with his booming set of pipes. We had a nice chat regarding West Virginia sports. I had seen him during WVU football season at the Mountaineers game against UNLV. I was in the press box covering the game for the school newspaper while he was up there for FSN West representing the UNLV broadcast. He also covers basketball games for Versus. Neverett also praised Morgantown and the university for having top-notch facilities and a warm, homey atmosphere. Always good to hear that from an outsider, I know its true and its great to be recognized. In fact, when in Morgantown for the caravan stop around lunch time they stopped at the football weight room and got in an afternoon workout. 
We finally got to the table where team members were signing autographs. Pitching coach Ray Searage had some very interesting stories to tell.

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He, too, has West Virginia ties. He went to college at West Liberty, a small school in Wheeling, WV. He obviously played baseball for the Hilltoppers and went on to have a thriving Major League career, most notably for the Brewers. Searage went on, in a very intimidating tone, to address his party days at the small school even going as far as saying “there were keggers every damn night!” now I go to a top five party school in WVU. We have never gone to Wheeling for a kegger. 
He really denounced any form of education and really seemed to enjoy chatting it up with some college aged kids. Maybe we brought him back to his glory days, too bad he didn’t offer to buy us a beer after the event. 
Now we got to the players.
I had James McDonald sign a photo taken at the season ticket holder shopping spree held in the Pirates clubhouse just a few days before Christmas. His game used jersey was for sale, I pickedit up, my brother got a picture of me holding it. When I presented it to him to be signed he was flabbergasted.
“How the heck you get a hold of this,” McDonald exclaimed. “I don’t even have one.”
The fun didn’t stop there.
Wearing my “Wiz Khalifa” gray and yellow bill hat, McDonald wanted a piece of it. In fact, he called it “too, too fresh.”
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He wanted to wear it. I let him.
PC9.jpgMcDonald even went as far as to pull out his camera phone and snap a pic of himself with my stylish cap. It fit him better than it fit me. In all honesty, it looked better on him than me. I said, “When you get your hands on your own game used jersey, let me know. I’ll trade you.” He didn’t like that very much. 
He really wants his game worn jersey.
Next guy up was Jeff Karstens. 
The picture with him came up a little blurry, so its not worth putting up. This is him anyway, you be the judge if it was worth putting up in the first place.
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Last, but not least, was the “Pittsburgh Kid,”
Neil Walker. Perhaps, the most famed Bucco currently on the roster, Walker is a hot commodity. A majority of the people at the Uniontown Mall were prepared with cards and photos of Walker while wearing his jersey. A notorious stand up guy Walker was everything and more. Complimentary to everyone who came out and honored by my congratulations to him.
He was recently engaged. 
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An excellent night was capped off by a superb Italian meal at a local Uniontown eatery. The fun doesn’t stop here as Friday night begins Pirate Fest in Pittsburgh. As always, stay posted for a post recapping what is sure to be an unforgettable night and follow twitter (@pittpeaswv) for updates from the event. 

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

Let’s run away and don’t ever look back

From the 2010 season.

sad.jpg57-105. Wow.

Andy LaRoche popped out in the top of the 9th to conclude one of the worst seasons in the Bucs storied 124 year history.

It’s hard to say there was much promise to be held in 2010, but no one expected it to be this bad.

General Manager Neil Huntington told Jennifer Langosch that “We are moving forward. And 2010 will be a much better year,” back in January.

In fact it was a gargantuan step back, six more losses than in 2009. I can’t help but feel cheated and lied to, but as sad as it is, I’m used to it.

There were dissapointments.

Aki Iwamura was expected to be a solid advancement as an everyday second baseman. That was an experiment gone wrong as Iwamura failed to sniff the Mendoza Line forcing a demotion to AAA eventually leading to an outright release.

The pitching was horrible, to say the least.

Losing 84 games the starting pitchers failed to put the team in a position to win a game. But its not like the offense was much better either.

Garret Jones led the team with 21 homers and 86 RBI, still very much lacking in the power department. The BUcs scored 587 runs and had a .242 batting average and .304 on-base percentage, 2nd lowest in the majors across those catergories.

Fingers can be pointed in many directions but I say it starts at the top.

JR.jpgJohn Russell is a disgrace as a manger. Tabulating a 186-299 record over three seasons he honest to goodness ranks in the top-ten worst managers of all time. Statistical evidence was provided by sports writer Joe Starkey. The face you see on the right side is indicative to his mood throughout the year. He is stone cold and provides little if any backbone to an already defalted team.

Rumors have circulated throughout the weekend that this is the end of Russell’s tenure in Pittsburgh.

The sooner the better.

Now Russell has not had much to work with in his three years as manager including a lineup that was never set in stone. Also with an influx of youngsters and an always changing roster it was hard to find stability. Actually, it wasn’t. Under Russell’s watch the only stability founded was in the L column.

There were so many negatives in 2010 but believe it or not there were positives.

Here are teh top three.

1. The calvary.

Established by post game show host Rocco DeMaro, the calvary describes the young Pirates that made their way into the big league lineup in 2010. The core includes Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata. This trio really has been something to give Pirate fans some sort of hope. All three are crowd favorites and for right reasons.

 

 

 

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  Alvarez has had a series of ups and downs. He has a potent bat, but also a high strikeout tendency. He did smack 16 homers but the real kicker is his astronomical OPS. He has a strong glove and striking arm. Fellas, he’s just 23.

 

 

 

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Walker and Tabata are carbon copies of each other. Each with speed and a strong bat they have staying power. Flirting with a .300 batting average throughout the course of their half-a-big league season the kids have a knack for getting on base. Walker is easily the new “Jack Wilson” of the team. Clubhouse leader and good guy. He is actually from Pittsburgh making the hometown hero legend a reality.

2. James McDonald

j-mac53.jpgIn a rotation strapped for pretty much everything nothing was more welcomed than the trade deadline acquisition of James McDonald.

Consider the fact that no Pirate starter had double digit wins but McDonald provided a little spark, even with his 4-6 record. McDonald went deep into games and actually put the offense in charge of coming through with something. He really was in charge and control of the mound. Barring an offseason addition to the rotation McDonald really does have ace potential.

 

 

 

 

3. The Fans

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What else do I have to say?

A Deeper Look Inside…Pedro Alvarez

 

pedro1.jpgWhen I visited Washington D.C. this past weekend I met up with my friend Marc who is currently in the nation’s capital on an internship. Being a Cubs fan he and I talked about the NL Central and how far out our respective teams are in terms of games back from the Cardinals and surging Reds. We also talked baseball in general. I had told him

“With Pedro Alvarez up we should be a better team with better run production.” He responds with a “Who is Pedro Alvarez?”

Well, I guess to those outside of Pittsburgh the legend of Pedro Alvarez has not been regularly relayed. So it is my civil duty to tell his tale. A tale of a shaky past, current talent and simply the future. The future for himself and an entire franchise.

Alavrez hails from the street of New York City. An area mostly billed for producing basketball
pedro2.jpg greats, Alvarez is a rare gem to step from the baseball diamond. His talent allowed him to go to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Turning down an offer to be drafted right out of high school Alvarez went on to set records for VU and helped the Commadores win an SEC Championship. Alvarez continued his stories undergraduate career on the USA national baseball team. His power and handiness with the glove at third base allowed him to always be the target of scouts and high draft classification.

He would be picked up after his sophomore season. The Pirates jumped on him at pick number two, but getting him in a black and gold uniform would not be easy. Even getting him through the system would not be easy. Heck getting him INTO the system would be one of the hardest things the Pirate’s management had ever done.

Being picked second demands and deserves big money. After a back and forth volleyball match between Neil Huntington and Frank Coonelly with Alvarez’s agent Scott Boras both sides reportedly came to an agreement just minutes before the August 15th signing deadline. But it still took until September to make both sides happy with a $6 million dollar deal. It was a messy situation that really made the Pittsburgh organization and Alvarez look bad and downright slimey. However inking Alavrez prompted Pirates owner Bob Nutting to claim Huntington and Coonelly as the “best management team in all of sports.” Take that in for a moment. It’s a wonder that the “best management team in allllll of sports” cannot put together a competitive club or show the comptence to do so. However, that is a whole other argument.

 

pedro3.jpgAlvarez was watched under a tight microscope throughout his short time in the minor leagues. He helped the Lynchburg Hillcats win their League title and rose through to the AA and AAA levels with his resounding bat, most notably being a strong power prescence.

He was brought up to the majors on June 16th to an adoring PNC Park crowd of 15,000. He did recieve a standing ovation as he walked to the plate just to strike out at the hands of John Danks. He finished that game going 0-for-2. It would take three more games to cross that proverbial threshold where he would collect his first big league hit. From there he would collect a sac fly to cap off a victory over the Indians last Sunday.

pedro4.jpgHe still only has three major league hits but will always be regarded as the best Pirates prospect since Barry Bonds. I’m no scout but at the age of 23 I still think Alavrez needs a tune up and some extra time in the minors would not hurt him. He is playing along a host of other first time big leaguers like Jose Tabata and Neil Walker. The 2010 season is already a wash why not groom him for a month or two more then bring him up when he is ready?

It seems as if Alvarez is over swinging at pitches and not locating them off the pitchers hand. He definitely needs work in the batting cage to develop a keener eye at the plate. He has warning track power that will slowly come more and more with more repitions. He will strikeout; alot. But that is what power hitters do. I will gladly take 95 strikeouts from a guy that is going to flirt with 45 homeruns each season.

It is going to be alot of trial and error with Pedro Alvarez (he already has one in the field) but if he even comes close to living up to his hype he will have a prosperous career and the Pirates will gladly reap the benefits. 

photo credits: ducksonthepondkid.com, straybaseball.com, reclinergm.com, facebook.com 

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