In addition to better weather, springtime heralds the return of baseball season. And, for long-suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fans, hope springs eternal for the home team in picturesque PNC Park.
The Bucs have had a long and storied history over the past
137 seasons, filled with five world championships and numerous hall-of-fame players.
Outside PNC Park, four statues – Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski – depict four larger-than-life players who graced the friendly confines of Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium with amazing exploits of baseball heroism. The statues are frozen in iconic, familiar poses, standing in silent testimony to the greatness of these four Hall of Famers.
And they are the tip of the iceberg. Others could deservedly have statues outside the park: Pie Traynor, Arky Vaughan, Fred Clarke, the Waner brothers, Kiki Cuyler and Max Carey, among others. Past owner Barney Dreyfuss and player Ralph Kiner have memorials within the park, though I wonder how many fans pass over them without a glance, heading to their seats.
Theses statues and memorials reflect the time-honored tradition of the fans who cheer on their beloved Bucs. They are as iconic as the ivy still growing on Forbes Field’s wall.
I wonder how young fans today understand these statues. As a kid, I viewed the statue of Wagner with awe and pride. He was a local boy who was one of the first players inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As a kid, I watched with astonishment the remarkable feats of hitting, fielding and running performed by my idol, Roberto Clemente. To those of us privileged to watch him play, he was the greatest in our lifetime. Nobody else has ever come close.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Bucs’ last world championship. Numerous fans have become extremely disenchanted with the franchise – especially with owner Bob Nutting and upper management, as well as with some of the players in recent years.
Failure breeds contempt, especially when the fans believe that the owner’s own agenda of profit outweighs the success of the team. Fans look with exasperation at trades that do little to improve the roster. The trade of phenom Austin Meadows, Shane Baz and Tyler Glasnow for questionable pitcher Chris Archer looks worse with each successive week.
While the Bucs have four or five promising pitchers, as well as an equally promising bullpen, the offense is sadly lacking in power.
Outfielder Gregory Polanco has been a bitter disappointment to fans. At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Polanco should be hitting 40 home runs a year instead of his usual 20. The clumsy Polanco is now in his sixth year with the Pirates, and he is still making baserunning and fielding errors.
First baseman Josh Bell, by contrast, has bounced back nicely at the plate after a rough sophomore year, but fielding errors at first base make him a liability. I would trade Polanco and move Bell, a former outfielder, to right field instead. Good-hitting Colin Moran, a fielding liability at third base, should be moved to first base.
Hitting, or lack thereof, seemed to be a major issue for the Bucs during a recent eight-game losing streak. I would fire their new hitting coaches, and bring in legitimate coaches. There are good hitters – Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang – on this team who are underperforming.
Fan favorite Francisco Cervelli is the catching mainstay for the young Bucs pitching staff, an excellent framer with impressive defensive skills. Currently battling a slump, the dependable hitter is in desperate need of a good hitting coach.
Injuries have plagued the Bucs already this season, especially decimating their outfield. One bright spot is newly acquired veteran Melky Cabrera, who at 34 is playing his best baseball in years, with timely hitting, impressive fielding and inspired leadership. He restrained Yasiel Puig, the hot point of a benches-clearing brawl between the Bucs and Reds earlier this year.
Joe Musgrove, a 6-foot-5 pitcher, has been the Bucs’ most dependable starter this year. His “old-school” approach to the game – slick fielding, aggressive base running, no-nonsense approach to pitching – has endeared him to Pirate fans.
How will the Bucs fare this year? Hard to tell. Sometimes they look like the 1927 Yankees; other times they look like the 1962 Mets. We can only hope.