If 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:
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
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
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
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
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
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