Today the long cold winter ends – baseball returns to Pittsburgh with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ home opener slated to begin at 1:05 p.m. at that gem on the North Shore, PNC Park.
Or does it?
It’s not hard to imagine that everyone in Pittsburgh, including players reporting to the ballpark, are wondering if there will be a game today. Especially after the stop – start – stop – start we’ve already(!) seen this season.
After the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first game of the season was delayed for a day in Detroit, the team engaged in an epic 13-inning battle against the Tigers and emerged the winners. Then, hot off that win, pending weather forced another delay – forcing the teams into an Easter Sunday double header. The boys in black and gold gritted out wins in both of those games, then hopped the plane home. And then, baseball fans Burgh-wide woke up this morning to…snow!
But by all accounts (including the Pirates twitter one), baseball will go on!
In the past few weeks, a feeling has emerged around this team. Not the intense positive emotion we saw in 2014 or 2015, but a low-key vibration. A “feeling” that something might be afoot. And certainly sweeping the Tigers and coming into their home opener with a perfect 3-0 record contributes to it.
But there’s something else.
A New Beginning
Every March/April the slate is wiped clean. Teams get the opportunity to put the last season behind them and start on the same level as the other 29 in MLB. Sure, some teams are stacked – and some aren’t. And there is no mistaking what side of that coin the Pittsburgh Pirates are on. And yet, hope is in the air.
The Pirates are still without face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen, who they traded to the San Francisco Giants in the offseason. It wasn’t a surprising move, and was telegraphed before the 2017 season, but still fans and teammates were up in arms. The Pirates are still without ace Gerrit Cole, who they traded to the Astros in the offseason as well. Again, if no one saw that move coming, they just aren’t paying attention to the way the team operates (and the way Cole’s agent, Scott Boras does, too). Cue the fan hand-wringing about the starting rotation.
And yet, here they are, riding a sweep into the home opener in the most beautiful ballpark in the country. There’s a buzz that maybe, just maybe, these guys are capable of winning. Are capable of so much more than the vile-spouting sports-radio talking heads would ever imagine. Are capable of holding their own in a division that is pretty unforgiving.
The Power of Youth
We’ve heard all winter about the young guys who were now dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates – especially in pitching. They stepped up in a big way in Detroit. It was lefty Steven Brault who earned the win in the 5 hour 27 minute marathon opener, Trevor Williams who pitched six hitless innings in their 1-0 win in game one of the Easter day double-header and Chad Kuhl, who, even though the numbers as he told MLB’s Adam Berry were a little ugly, got the W in the last game of the series.
And today, Jameson Taillon, who some believe is the team’s new “ace-in-waiting,” takes the mound. It’s a brilliant choice by the Pirates to feature the Canadian/Texan in the home opener. Jamo, whose career has been put on hold three times now to recover from injuries and illness, is the picture of resilience. Just like this team. Just like this city.
Will they continue to ride this wave? The Pirates won’t keep winning forever. It’s baseball and there’s a reason they play 162 games. And certainly they have much more formidable opponents yet to face. But for now, even with the snow, and the predicted 40-degree temperatures at game time, these Pirates are HOT and full of promise. And people can feel it.