The crack of the bat. The smell of freshly cut grass. Wishing you were in Florida or Arizona. These are the sweet memories and wishes all baseball fans start to have right around this time of the year.
Regardless of what popular opinion may say, baseball is still the American pastime. It's why their athletes get paid more than any other sport and the Yankees are the No. 1 sports brand name in the world.
But unfortunately, in all sports there must be team that loses while one wins. For Pittsburgh Pirates fan like myself, this is the natural order of things. Natural order also states that the Pirates cannot win more than 80 games each year for the past 18 seasons.
That's right, I have yet to live through a Bucs winning season.
So then throwing the obvious question of "why am I a Pirates fan?" aside, the next question is, will the Pirates break this streak in the 2011 season?
The answer is no.
The Pirates lineup includes Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and and Jose Tabata, who are all young players who have proven that .290, 25 HRs and 75 RBI are possible when given playing time.
The problem is that when you have a young lineup, there needs to be veterans who can not only teach, but be the consistent rock during slumps with these young potential stars. I'm not saying you need former MVPs, just players like Xavier Nady or late-years Brian Giles: not necessarily fantastic, but consistent and dugout leaders.
The Pirates don't have that as of now. Possibly Ronnie Cedeño or Lyle Overbay, but history has taught us that when these players come to Pittsburgh, expect their production to drop off the Mount Washington overlook (ex. Jeromy Burnitz and Randall Simon).
Furthermore, teams who succeed with young, potential-laden lineups succeed due to solid and consistent pitching.
Pardon me if you think Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm, Daniel McCutchen, Brad Lincoln and Charlie Morton make up a consistent pitching staff. Ohlendorf went from 11 wins to just one this past season and will more than likely be the Opening Day starter.
I would have hope in the Pirates' pitching scouting abilities, but the ghosts of Kris Benson, Jimmy Anderson and Ryan Voglesong haunt me.
So then the natural follow up becomes: How does this happen for 18 consecutive years? An optimist will say it is the curse of Andy Van Slyke (or Barry Bonds, your choice) upon which the Pirates pick the wrong players to hold on to and let go.
Keep Kevin Young and dump Jason Kendall is one example that still burns me.
Another is to dump Todd Richie and keep Jimmy Anderson. Some will say Brain Giles, Jason Bay (who was part of the Giles deal) and Freddy Sanchez may have left regardless of midseason loyalty, but that doesn't mean trading them for future and permanent Double-A players is smarter.
More recent moronic Pirate trading includes dumping promising prospects for a multitude of younger prospects with less potential. Dumping Jose Bautista (the same who just hit 50 HRs) and Nate McClouth (I know, injured and did little, but still an All-Star, gold-glove player) for players to be lost in the Pirates farm system puzzles everyone.
Now, I truly lament because the management does not care. Recent reports show the Pirates still make a good deal of money off of this Triple-A team due to eternal optimism by baseball junkies like myself.
Ouch. That kind of manipulation of the system should be illegal.
Unfortunately, it isn't. The Yankees may manipulate revenue sharing at one end, but the Pirates management is just as bad at the opposite end.
So, to all Pirates fans, I say let us all wallow in eternal misery. Until Mark Cuban breaks down Bud Selig and buys his hometown Bucs, we will be subject to a perversion of what Pittsburgh baseball should be. I cry at the thought of Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente could have been forced to watch their former champion Pirates now.
While some may be excited for this glimpse of summer's glory, we all look at the dreary Pittsburgh sky and realize that this may actually be better than actually watching the Pittsburgh Pirates.