The Pittsburgh Pirates have a special opportunity to finally win back the hearts of Pittsburghers. Having lived in the Steel City my whole life, my memories of the months of June, July, and most of August have always been a period of down time between the Penguins season ending and Steelers training camp beginning.
It is time for this attitude to die, along with the Pirates streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons. As of today, the Pittsburgh Pirates stand alone with the best record in baseball. A franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1992 and just three years ago lost 105 games now has the best record in the league. All this has been accomplished with one of the five lowest payrolls in all of Major League Baseball. Let that sink in.
I understand why some black and gold supporters are skeptical. The past two seasons the Pirates have entered the All Star break with an above .500 record, only to have the wheels fall off and finish with a losing record. However, this year’s team is different, and most importantly, finally has depth.
This depth is most evident in the pitching rotation. Two of the Buccos best starting pitchers, A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, have been on the disabled list since early June. Last year, injuries to the pitching staff down the stretch killed the Pirates. The depth of the pitching staff this season, however, has helped the Buccos stay in the race for a division title. Jeff Locke, who entered this season with a lifetime record of 1-6 and an ERA of almost 6, has arguably been one of baseball’s best stories. The 25-year-old lefty is 7-1 with an ERA just over 2. Then there has been the success of Gerrit Cole. The Pirates selected Cole first overall in the 2011 MLB draft, and the former UCLA Bruin finally got his first chance at the big leagues this year. To say he has lived up to expectations so far would be an understatement. The 22-year-old Cole is a perfect 4-0 so far to begin his MLB career, with three of his wins coming against some of the best lineups in baseball (San Francisco, LA Dodgers and LA Angels).
The Pirates now stand atop the National League Central division, thanks in part to their current 7 game win streak. Yet despite being 19 games over .500, the Pirates still don’t have top 20 attendance in baseball. This weekend’s home stand against the Milwaukee Brewers is sold out, and that’s a start, but it is time for Pittsburghers to finally support this Pirates team with the same enthusiasm and optimism as they do the Steelers and Penguins.
It often costs more than $100 for a ticket to see the Steelers or the Penguins, but an evening at the best park in Major League Baseball can be enjoyed for no more than $20.
Its been a long, difficult 20 years for the Pirates faithful since Barry Bonds failed to throw out Sid Bream at home plate in game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. The Pirates were 3 outs away from the World Series, but gave up 3 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to the Atlanta Braves in a 3-2 defeat. The Buccos haven’t had a winning season since.
Two decades later, a new Pirates generation has emerged. After a mediocre 8-8 season from the Steelers and the Penguins being swept out of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pirates have a unique opportunity to win back the hearts of many of the Pittsburghers who have lost interest in the team since the 1990s. I am confident this group is ready for the challenge.