My friend Sam, who migrated back to Southwest Pennsylvania from Maryland a few years ago, joins us to talk about the Washington Nationals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates series that begins tonight.
WFY: After several years of teasing respectability and over 20 years of losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates advanced to the NLDS last year, but started off sub-.500. and had me wondering if the 2013 maxed out on this groups potential. They have been on fire the last couple of months and worked their way into contention for the play-in game if not the division; do you think they can get in?
TMBCE: Of course I think they can get in. Do I think they will?? Probably not. The Buccos didn’t go out and pick up another bat at the deadline or starting pitcher, although they made a nice bullpen addition yesterday with John Axford. The team is still batting a bunch of injuries, and the starting pitching is still a wee bit inconsistent. It will probably prove to be too much. However, it is nice to think they will have two straight winning seasons after 20 years of futility, so for that I’m really happy! The Buccos are trending upward in my view.
WFY: When I think of the current Pirates, I think of Andrew McCutcheon, Nats-killer and panda hater, but he’s out. How long? Who is filling the void?
TMBCE: Not only is Cutch out, but so is Walker (2nd best hitter on the team) as well as stud pitcher Gerrit Cole. Many of the regulars have missed significant time this year too, such as Marte and Martin. By far, the unsung hero through all this has been Josh Harrison (who we call “J-Hay!” around here). He was barely supposed to make the team out of spring training, and has been a utility player the last few years. But he has really stepped up!!!!
WFY: How has attendance been at the best ballpark I ever attended? Is the fanbase still energized? Have you made it out it to a game so far? I’m hoping to return for the 2015 Nats-Buccos series.
TMBCE: I’ve been to 2 games this year- a win and a loss. Attendance has been really good, and as of now, the projection is that the team will break the single season attendance record.
WFY: A.J. Burnett traded Primanti sammiches for cheesesteaks and signed for the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. How much is he missed and how is the rotation holding up? By the way, he got thrown out of his last start against the Nats for arguing with the umpire after giving up a big homer.
TMBCE: Some in the fan base miss, but its not universal. I for one do not miss him. He was a great team leader, but appeared to clash with Clint Hurdle late in last season, and never really appeared to take fondly to coaching. I have a lot of respect for what he did for the team, but I don’t want him back. Bigger than that, I think the Buccos need to re-sign Russell Martin in the worst way.
WFY: I said it last year that the PNC Park is the best thing about Pittsburgh. Normally, that’d be an insult to a city, but I’ll argue that PNC Park celebrates the Paris of Appalachia with the view of the skyline, bridges, river, hills, and proximity to the Golden Triangle. Am I right?
TMBCE: I have been to several current ballparks in my life: Camden Yards, Nationals Park, Jacobs Field in Cleveland (or whatever they call it now), and Fenway Park. PNC is by the best in my view. The most underrated place to sit is in the “upper deck” behind home plate. Its not really that high, offers a great view of the whole field, and a beautiful view of the city. Great prices for tickets too The next 2 parks I’d like to see are Wrigley Field and the Giants ballpark, which I hear is also outstanding.
WFY: What’s your favorite way to get to a Pirates game since it’s possible to go via automobile, bicycle, walking, light rail or boat?
TMBCE:My favorite way is to get the trolley (light rail) and get off at the Gateway Center stop, and then walk across the Clemente Bridge to the game. Its also possible to take the Trolley over to the North Shore and have a shorter walk to the stadium, which I will do in a pinch. But if I prefer the walk across the bridge. I am VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED to driving to PNC Park for any reason.
WFY: I know you avoid buying beer at the ballpark, but what regional offerings other than Iron City (which you questioned my purchase of last May)? I want to try a local craft beer the next time I am sitting in that magnificent edifice. I’ll even buy you one.
TMBCE: Maybe we should get the beer passport and participate in the local pre-game craft beer sampling that they have. I am not sure which ones are offered at the park, because its difficult for me to pay $10 for a beer that I may not enjoy. One local beer that I am enjoying this summer for the first time is the Rivertowne beers. They offer several in a wide range of beers, most of them I like (except for the really hoppy ones). Nicole even likes the Hala Kahiki (pineapple ale) offering, and she isn’t even a beer aficionado.
WFY: Any change to the Pirates standing in the Pittsburgh sports power rankings? How do the Stillers look for the upcoming season? What about Pengyunz?
TMBCE:A weird dynamic has happened with the Pens. A lot of the “new” Pens fans (the ones who just showed up when Crosby was drafted, much like the “new” Red Sox fans who just showed up when the Red Sox started winning) are put off by what has happened with the teams playoff struggles. They expect a Stanley Cup every year, and the playoff games are not always sold out anymore. I too am not pleased with their playoff performances, and agree changes are necessary. But a lot of the new fans are spoiled, in my view. All that said, I think the Pirates are catching up to the Pens in the power rankings. If the Pirates can sneak into the playoffs, and the Pens bow out early again, I think the Pirates overtake them. I expect a big year da Stillers–11 or 12 wins.
WFY: A sportswriter you have mentioned, Dejan Kovacevic, has started his own site. How is that going and have you subscribed?
TMBCE: Dejan is very knowledgeable about Pittsburgh sports but in recent years, has started to come across a bit too arrogant for my liking. He has plenty of connections and is well informed, but I was not sad to see him live the Trib and do not plan on subscribing to his new website.
WFY: So, do the Pirates sweep the Nats or just take two of three?
TMBCE: I think the Nats sweep, and I’m not just saying that flippantly. The Buccos offense is really hamstrung right now, and our ace (Liriano) isn’t pitching this series.