Perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirates should familiarize themselves with Aesop’s fables. In particularly, the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.
After all, the turtle knows it’s not where you start the race, but where you finish. Long-suffering Pirate fans can skip the lesson though. They’re well aware of the past 20 years of complete and utter futility and just how and when it all began. No need to remind them. (But hey, I’m going to anyway)
Yes, ever since that no-good-son-of-a-bench-warming-bum-whose-name-shall-forever-remain-nameless’ fatal bottom-of-the-ninth two-out pinch-hit single that knocked in the molasses-footed ex-Pirate Sid Bream from second base just inches ahead of the once-and-future-steroid-king Barry Bonds‘ most-unspectacular throw from left field in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, baseball in the ‘Burg, to put it mildly, has been pretty crappy.
True, compared to the previous pathetic 18, the last two seasons have seen a dramatic improvement in play and it finally looks like these Pirates will, at the very least, finally be able to put to rest the ghost of sub .500 baseball this summer, but the psychological scars will remain until they do.
And like a broken record that’s spun around too much, any little hiccup or bump in the road this season will have Bucco fans rolling their eyes and muttering once again those four little depressing words: Here. We. Go. Again.
The last two seasons, the Pirates played over .550 baseball right about up until about the time their more successful sports brethren, the Pittsburgh Steelers, opened training camp, and many fans were duped into believing things would somehow be different and the boys would finally end their losing mania.
Alas, they didn’t. A 21-46 finish in the 2011 campaign followed by a 21-43 dive last season doomed the team into setting the North American record for most consecutive losing seasons by a pro sports team. No small feat, considering they are tied for seventh (with the Cincinnati Reds) for all-time franchise World Series wins with five.
Anyway, the Pirates are at it again this year, getting off to a wonderful 34-20 start, rising 14 games over the .500 mark the first two months of the season. They had the second best record in all of MLB on May 30. But a poor 1-5 road trip in the first week of June has raised the old crash & burn specter again. Will they stay in contention at least till the Steelers hit training camp this season? Or has the merciless meltdown already begun?
The Pirate faithful would like to think newly-acquired veterans like Brandon Inge, Russell Martin and Mark Melancon won’t allow a sudden plunge to happen this early in the season; their former winning ways somehow magically rubbing off on the rest of the team and showing them how to survive the dog days of August and go wire to wire.
Add this newly-acquired “winners” factor to the fact that the core of the team can no longer use the excuse they’re still learning to play the game at the big league level, and there’s good reason not to turn to our attention to the gridiron before September.
So does all this mean the Pirates’ ship will finally sail off over the .500 horizon? Or will these guys walk the plank once again and finish below the even-steven mark for 21 consecutive seasons? I’m betting the former because the team finally has something they’ve never had before – experience. The bulk of this team knows what it’s like to race out of the gate to the front of the pack, only to find themselves far behind everyone else at the finish line.
So maybe, just maybe, they’ll take that experience and learn something from it – like how to be the tortoise and not the hare.