To give you an idea of how long it's been since the Pittsburgh Pirates posted a winning campaign, take a minute to soak up the landscape of Major League Baseball all the way back in the summer of 1992.
Among the numerous differences in the sport between then and now, the following stand out:
-Each league featured only two divisions, an East and West.
-Wild cards were not part of the postseason landscape.
-The Milwaukee Brewers finished second...in the American League East.
-Pittsburgh won the NL East by nine games over the Montreal Expos.
-The Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays didn't exist as franchises.
-Southern California's baseball team was still referred to as the California Angels.
-Cal Ripken Jr. was still three years away from surpassing Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak.
-The impending 1994 players' strike wasn't yet on the baseball radar.
-A 28-year-old Barry Bonds won the National League MVP for Pittsburgh after leading the NL in walks, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, OPS+, runs, runs created, offensive WAR and extra-base hits.
In other words, it was a long, long time ago.
At 82-61, the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates have exhumed years of losing and frustration to post their first winning record in 21 years. In the process, they have announced themselves as a true World Series contender.
Led by a group of homegrown stars (Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte), veteran castoffs enjoying a second life to their respective careers (Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett) and shrewd trade acquisitions (Mark Melancon, Marlon Byrd, Gaby Sanchez) from general manager Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh is the best story in the sport.
From 57 wins in 2010 to 72 in 2011 to 79 in 2012, their rise has been quick and swift. Now, combined with the nostalgia that surrounds their last winning season occurring a generation ago, the Pirates deserve a spot as "America's Team" in the 2013 postseason.
If you aren't a diehard from Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston or Detroit, there's only one team to pull for in the 2013 postseason: your Pittsburgh Pirates.
Too often, storylines and narratives are concocted by the media to fit seamlessly into a column, blog post or tweet. With this Pirates team, from ex-New York players like Byrd, Russell Martin and Burnett, there is an element of big to small-market shift. There is an MVP candidate in McCutchen, raw power from Alvarez, a blazing fastball from Cole and a dominant bullpen, led by Jason Griilli.
Individually, the Pirates have only a few players that would be identifiable as stars across the sport. As a group, though, they are an underdog story that has risen to the top of the majors.
Plus, Pittsburgh hasn't seen winning baseball since Barry Bonds' (initial) prime. Although Pittsburgh is known as a football (Steelers) and hockey (Penguins) town now, it was once one of the most vibrant cities in baseball.
During the 1940s, '50s and into the early '60s, Pittsburgh routinely finished in the top half of baseball in attendance. Those days are gone, but expect seats to be filled in October.
The ingredients are there to make a sustained run in the postseason, so hop on board now. The Bucs Bus is steamrolling toward October, accepting applicants and poised for magic once it arrives.
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