"If you build it, they will come." Field of Dreams
When PNC Park opened in the spring of 2001, it was and is, a lovely piece of architecture. The views of Pittsburgh are wonderful and the stadium seems to embrace the playing field. There is not a bad seat in the house. Many cars packed with families and buses from all over northwest PA make the trip down to the Park to take in America's pastime.
The Pirate faithful continue to buy tickets even as we near mid-season, with the Pirates sliding farther out of contention. The proverbial "other shoe" is hanging precariously, and will surely drop before long. Thus, sending a couple of the last producing Pirates to an eagerly awaiting major league club.
PNC Park was built and they did come. The fans came. The players came, and went.
Now the building of a baseball team in Pittsburgh continues. In the last few years we have seen our best players come and go. So where does one start, to build a winning baseball team?
How will management, media or fans know when the foundation for winning is in place?
With the Championship Steelers and Penguins we could see the progress in the seasons leading up to winning the ultimate prize.
Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Ward, and James Harrison were obviously a pretty good foundation. Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, and Staal were talented players that only needed a committed and gritty group around them to win it all.
Who do the Pirates build around?
It seems their best players are gone by the end of the year. Andrew McCutchen has shown good promise and after trading McClouth to bring him up, he would appear to be a keeper.
After that who knows? I do know that the people the Pirates pay to make these decisions know a lot more than I do. By almost all accounts, those writers that have the deepest understanding of MLB say that Huntington has done a great job repairing the damage done to the organization by the previous GM. Keep it up Neal! Bring us a winner!
That said, after so many seasons of what appears to be the same old thing, just where are we at in the process?
I would say the odds of getting a really competitive team that can make and win in the playoffs purely from "prospects" is about as good as winning the Powerball. Which I do play sometimes and know that with a ticket, I at least have a chance of winning...It could happen.
How close do the Pirates have to be before management would consider spending some money and bringing in players that have proved themselves in the majors? Not a lot, but enough to round out the talent that does come through Pittsburgh.
If they still had some of the talent traded away in the last two years and had added a couple of strong pitchers (if any were even available), the team would look to compete for a playoff spot. At least the prospect of winning with such a team would be very good. Pirates have gotten rid of some strong bats in recent times.
However, those that know baseball will contend that Huntington has done a hell of a job rebuilding the farm talent that feeds the Major League Pirates. I believe them. Perhaps the players that will lead us to the playoffs are down there some where and we just don't get to see them.
My view is just that perhaps the Pirates have been closer than we think, having had some strong players in key areas. Most successful teams have to, at some point, make some calculated moves to get them over the top. A couple of experienced players, that can still can play, go a long way to stabilize and help young talent produce.
Of course going mostly with prospects, that have yet to prove they can do anything in the Majors and have never been in a playoff series, will probably win a pennant in a few years if we are patient.
...It could happen.