"Clear the Deck, Cannonball Comin'"
With the National Football League getting underway, it is easy to put Major League Baseball on the back page. This year it's not that easy. One of the greatest story lines in years is the fantastic season that the Pittsburgh Pirates are putting together.
Over the years Baseball has been dismissed as an old game and a slow game. It is an old game for certain and at times it can be terribly slow, but that doesn't mean it is any less dramatic than the current king of sports, the NFL.
Over the years I have travelled to many cities where baseball is played and the enthusiasm is the same in each and every town. Whether it is minor league baseball in Erie, Pennsylvania, or Frederick, Maryland, or in Major League Baseball at Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium and, yes, even PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Fans continue to pour through the turnstiles at an amazing numbers.
In Pittsburgh – where a 20-year-old resident has never seen a winning Pirates team – there is enthusiasm in abundance. Pirates’ fans, who attend PNC Park games this year, aren't necessarily the glory day’s type of fan either. Fans of every age are attending Pirates games this year. PNC Park has been selling out, even on weekday nights.
Since Barry Bonds patrolled the outfield for the Pirates – the pre PED days – the Pirates have given little hope to their fans. In fact only until the past two seasons have the Pirates threatened to break their historical run at ineptness. The Pirates not only hold the distinction of setting MLB history with the number of consecutive losing seasons, they hold the North American major league record for all four major sports that also includes the NFL, NHL and NBA.
Pittsburgh has been among MLB's thriftiest franchises over the same 20-year time frame as their losing streak. What other small market teams have done to be successful is now coming to fruition at PNC Park. For years the Pittsburgh front office has traded away rising stars to get minor league prospects in return.
With the virtual stockpiling of top prospects, the organization is now rated as near the top in major league potential. The efforts that built a strong minor league program are bearing fruit after countless years of pruning.
The game of baseball is healthy. Including the Major Leagues, baseball boasts of over 250 professional teams. No other professional sport could possibly support that many professional teams, unless you count college football and basketball as de-facto professional teams.
With the sport being healthy even small market teams such as the Pirates are able to compete with large markets if they are smart.
The Pirates, holding the second best record in all of baseball, are defying the odds. Because of this excitement and optimism, they are at a baseball fever pitch. This isn't just a Pittsburgh story either. Fans from Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Los Angeles are posting on MLB.com comments that they are pulling for the Pirates to take it this year.
With the Steelers finishing up training camp at Saint Vincent College, this is traditionally the time that western Pennsylvania would turn their attention from horsehide to pigskin.
They good news for Major League Baseball and fans of the underdog is that no one will be turning off the Pirates until they've counted their last out this fall – or raised the Jolly Roger one last time.