The Major League season is winding down and the playoff races are heating up. The NFL Preseason is in full swing with the regular season right around the corner. Just after the first kickoff of the NFL season, NHL teams will open up their training camps in preparation to chase Lord Stanley’s Cup. This is the best time of year to be a fan of Pittsburgh sports. However, before you get too excited let me be the first to tell you we will not be the city of champions in 2014-2015. I know that’s a lot to swallow for all of the diehard fans out there. Before you start cursing my name realize I am a fan as well. I root for the Bucs every day, the Steelers for 16 weeks and the Pens for all 82 games. I just don’t let my being a fan blind me from reality.
Let’s start with the Pirates. They are losers of six straight after not having a losing streak that long during the entire season to this point. On the flip side, the Buccos have not had a winning streak longer than four games this season either. They do not have their leader, their heart and soul Andrew McCutchen, who is positioned on the disabled list under the category of “Devastating”. Their starting pitching is failing them and because of poor play from certain players and just as bad front office decisions Hurtle is now forced to play the likes Jayson Nix and Michael Martinez, neither of which have a batting average or slugging percentage over .200. The next time Pedro Alvarez is in the lineup at third base the organization may give away free hard hats to every fan on the first base line. With all of this they are still only 6 games out of the division lead and 2 games out of a wild card spot with their young ace Garrett Cole coming back from injury this week. I am not saying a playoff spot is out of their reach, I’m just saying it seems as if it is getting farther away by the second. Because of that I wouldn’t put in any vacation days for the World Series victory parade just yet.
The Steelers are on the upswing after two down years, at least by the lofty standards set in years past. Finishing with an 8-8 record and not making the playoffs will not cut it in this town. Two straight good drafts have positioned the team as contenders to make the playoffs but asking for much more this season is asking for too much. They are too young and play too tough of a schedule this year to have Super Bowl dreams. The defense will have two rookies playing prominent roles as well as newcomers in Cam Thomas and Mike Mitchell and they need to get pressure on every passing play so their secondary doesn’t get exposed. On offense the receiving core is young and unproven, at least aside from Brown and newcomer Lance Moore. Barring any injuries, Roethlisberger’s offense could score a lot of points in 2014. The bad news is they may have to if the secondary doesn’t hold up or faces an injury issue. If everything falls their way (and I mean everything) the Steelers could make a playoff run. They are a year of experience and learning away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
The Penguins are the best hope to bring a championship back to the Burgh. Where have you heard that before? Just for the past five years. The new coach is unproven at the NHL level and the new GM may be too old school in his decision making to make the right moves. Crosby, Malkin and the bunch need discipline and structure to succeed, but throughout their careers they don’t seem to want it. Fleury played well for the better part of last season but how many people out there would truly feel safe with him starting a pivotal game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone the Cup Finals? Neal is gone as are his fellow former teammates Orpik and Niskanen. The debate on whether this team is better or worse than the one who fizzled out in the second round of the playoffs last season could go on for days and even months. As long as they make the playoffs (as they will), anything is possible in the NHL. However, the evidence points to more of the same from this team. Questions will be answered shortly on the 2014-2015 Pens, I’m just not sure the fans are going to like a lot of the answers.
I am not saying the future for Pittsburgh sports seems bleak, I am just telling everyone to keep their expectations realistic this year. Too often we are blinded by our loyalty to the names on the front and backs of the jerseys to see the teams for what they truly are. I will be rooting just as much as the next fan for those victory parades, the only difference is I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to happen. I will be rooting for the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins just as hard as the next fan, if not more. I have just one message for all three of our beloved teams, PROVE ME WRONG.
I would like to take this time to address something sweeping the nation. As most people are aware, there is a craze that is sweeping the nation called the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. This is where people record themselves pouring ice water on their heads to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In the United States there are 15 new cases per day and 5,600 new cases diagnosed each year with upwards of 30,000 people caring the disease at any given time. At this time there is no cure for ALS and on average the life expectancy after being diagnosed is 3-5 years. Basically that means anyone who is diagnosed is basically being given a death sentence. Funds for the research of the disease have been low over the years making it very hard to find a cure. Since the Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral an estimated $15.6 million has been raised to help fund the cause. It is a staggering figure based on years past and it is growing by the minute.
A person very dear to me is battling this disease and seeing what it has physically done to him has been gut wrenching and heartbreaking. Watching him over the years has taught me that no matter what disease a person has or what may be physically taken away from them due to circumstances beyond their control, their spirit, will and heart can never be taken away. I am not asking anyone to donate nor am I asking anyone to take the challenge. I only wish that one day we can find a cure. The Ice Bucket Challenge is not only raising awareness and money for the cause, it is also giving those infected and their loved ones hope. That is what’s truly remarkable about this whole challenge, it brings hope and lets them know they are not fighting this battle alone. Hope is the voice we hear telling us there is light at the end of the tunnel when all odds are against us. With hope there is always a chance. It is with hope and will that greatness is born. It is time we find a cure for this disease. After thinking about it, I don’t wish for them to find a cure, I hope they do.

Posted in Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Steelers