Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
 
Posted on: March 27, 2009 10:35 am
 

Spring Training Leads To Hope???

As my teams this past year have done rather well, the Steelers won the SuperBowl, the Sooners went to the National Championship Game, the Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Final and Pitt just made it to the Elite Eight last night... and then we have the Pirates... hey we are consistent...

People say change is good... well the Pirates went through some changes last year... new ownership group... new GM... new Manager... same results... well maybe not...

The Pirates did trade away the 'talent'... gone are Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte... we did get back some 'organizational depth' as it is called... Brandon Moss will havea chance to be an everyday outfielder after being stuck behind Manny Ramirez and JD Drew in Boston... Adam LaRoche gets a chance to be the 3rd baseman and play with his older brother in Pittsburgh this year... we added Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Craig Hansen to our pitching staff...

Players like Ryan Doumit and Nate McClouth had break out years along with pitcher Paul Maholm... but players like Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez were not able to replicate their prior seasons, mostly due to injuries... pitchers like Ian Snell and Zach Duke while sticking with the Pirates did not continue to develop as we had hoped they would... Tom Gorzelanny fell off dramatically and ended up in Indianapolis as a result (back there this year already)

So what does 2009 hold for my beloved Pirates??? my glass is half full opinion is that we have a chance to get to that elusive .500 mark... while I know that is not the ultimate goal, for a team like the Pirates it would be huge for us... John Russell our 2nd year skipper mentions that he does not have that as a goal for the team... well for those of us that have suffered through the curse of Francisco Cabrera, we will take it... a sign of progress...

Let's see how this can happen... first pitching... Joe Kerrigan, the man who has taught the likes of Pedro Martinez what it means to be intimidating has the tough task of making this staff tougher... the Pirate pitchers have a tendency to nibble on the outside corner and as a result have made opposing hitters way to comfortable at the plate... so with a starting staff of Maholm, Snell, Duke, Ohlendorf and Karstens/Vasquez we could have a formiddable staff... no one will mistake this rotation with Yankees or the Red Sox, but it can provide this team with opportunities to win some games... the bullpen will be anchored by Matt Capps a solid closer that is a strike throwing machine and have John Grabow fresh off his WBC classic performance with the US team and Tyler Yates a flame throwing righty acquired from Atlanta last spring. Former starter Sean Burnett can provide solid work from the left side and the aforementioned Craig Hansen looks to regain his form that made him a 1st round pick. This years rule 5 selection Donnie Veal can bring it... just not always where he wants it hence he is a rule 5 pickup... and last years rule 5 selection Evan Meek is looking to stick with the big club this season as well. So Joe, you have your work cut out for you... this team will go only as far as the pitching will take us...if....

...the position players can play up to their potential... handling this staff will fall on the shoulders of Ryan Doumit... while having his best year last year, he must show that he can do it again... with the Pirates, he is a middle of the order hitter... on other teams he might be better suited to hit further down in the order, but no such protection here... while he will not hit 30 HRs... he can hit 15-20 and hit around .300... pretty good for a switch-hitting catcher. Adam LaRoche performing in a contract year will look to have two 2nd halves this season... a notoriuosly slow starter for the Pirates, Adam needs to half a strong start for this team to have a good start... Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson can be a pretty good middle to the infield... both suffered through injuries last year and with a team that has as little depth as the Pirates... well it was not good... at 3rd base another LaRoche... Andy... he has been a prizedprospect for the Dodgers the past few years... now is his opportunity to shine... he has all but been handed the 3rd base job this spring... so far so good... lets see what he can do once the sason starts... as we head to the outfield, we have some interesting choices... center field is set with Nate McClouth as he has converted himself from a 4th outfielder to a gold glove allstar center fielder... he might not duplicate last years performance, but if he can come close, no issues in center... as for left field, it looks like Nyjer Morgan will get the nod... a fleet footed leadoff hitter, he can bring some sorely lacking speed top a plodding team... he has shown signs of promise in the past two season, but consistency has been lacking... in right field, Brandon Moss gets his shot... his left handed power would be a welcome addition to a lineup with out a true power hitter (sorry Adam)... if he can get his stroke dialed in, the short porch he patrols in right will be inviting

While the bench will not be a huge asset again this year, a player like Eric Hinske can provide sme pop and if need be can fill in at a corner outfield spot or a corner infield spot if needed... Craig Monroe has shown signs of regaining his form of a few years ago can be a big bat from the right side and fill in aroundthe outfield if need be... Ramon Vazquez will provide some infield depth as will Luis Cruz or Brian Bixler... the catching position will be backed-up by either Robinson Cruz or newly acquired Jason Jamarillo, if either needs to play significant time, the Pirates will bein trouble...

There are a few players to keep an eye on... I am thinking that they will be getting some minor league seasoning before we see them @ PNC Park...

Steve Pearce is the closest to being ready, he might stick leaving Florida... a few dings this spring have limited his AB's thus far... probably ticketed for AAA to start, but has some pop... seems to push when he has gotten his chance... if and it is a very big if he settles down, he can rake

Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen are the next big things for the Pirates... Neil is currently at 3rd base, but has been mentioned as a possible 2nd baseman in the future... depending upon Andy LaRoche, this Pittsburgh native has moved from catcher to 3rd already in his young career, but his stick is what the Pirates are looking for... as for Andrew... he could very well be on this team as they head north, but the Pirates are using uncharacteristic patience with this phenom... already having a year of AAA under his belt at the age of 21, the Pirates are waiting to see hat happens with the current group of outfielders before calling up Andrew... he will play everyday when he is called up, so they are taking their time with him... great glove, great speed and get this pretty good idea of the strike zone... something the Pirates are finally trying to teach...

The Pirates also have two boppers that will be smashing their way through the minors this season, but look primed to be with the big club soon... Pedro Alvarez, last years number 1 pick has been seen hammering balls all over Bradenton this spring... reminding Manny Sangullien of Willie Stargell... wow... as a Pirate fan, there are not too many things to get excited about, but I believe Manny... he did say Ryan Doumit was the real thing last spring... and Jose Tabata another component of the trades last year has been mentioned time and time again by John Russell as a 'wow' bat... te ball really jumps off his bat... while buried in the Yankee organization he was a bit of abad apple... but he seems to see this trade as a new lease on life... Alvarez might be moved to 1st base and look for him to take Adam LaRoche's place if he decides to leave via free agency after this year... or possibly a trade for more 'organizatonal depth' this summer??? as for Tabata... maybe not this yar, but the idea of McClouth, McCutchen and Tabata roaming PNC in the near future could be exciting...

We do have a few arms as well Daniel McCutchen threw well wnought to raise the eyebrow of Chuck Tanner this spring... that is a good thing... Jeff Sues will have a chance to grow... Jimmy Barthmaier also had a few moments this spring that caused some to notice...

Alright... 2009... lets see if we can get out of the gates quickly... eliminate the pressure of having to catch .500 the entire season... as with most clubs injuries will be a key... we do not have a lot of depth... pitch inside, do not allow hitters to get comfortable... throw strikes... let the defense, that has a chance to be pretty good, do their thing... some timely hitting... and the Pirates could get off the snide... .500 is a possibility... and if the stars align, we could get a few wins over .500... stranger things have happened...

Let's Go Bucs!!! 

Category: MLB
Posted on: December 18, 2008 2:56 pm
 

2008 almost over... will 2009 be better???

Wow... here we are a week away from Christmas, and just a few weeks away from the end of 2008... with that said it is tradition to reflect upon the last year...

2008 was a big year for me personally... I moved across the country... looking to make a few changes in my life... looking for an opportunity to shine... but this is a sports site after all, let me talk about my teams...

2008 started off poorly for my teams... OU had the debacle in the desert... they looked as if they walked to Phoenix from Norman as the Mountaineers ran all over them... ugh... a few days later, the Steelers had a similar fate however; they did not have to travel for their beating at the hands of Jacksonville... so looking back January was awful...

Next would be the Pitt Panther basketball team in the NCAA's... gotta love the March Madness.. the Pitt team was pulling it all together at the right time of the year... overcoming injuries throughout the season, they looked primed for a long run in the tournament... ugh... the Beasts of the East once again struggled in the tourney as they are not used to the whistle happy officials... Panthers bounced!!!

No worries, I went to spring training and saw my beloved Pirates... new manager John Russell had the black and gold looking crisp... we had young pitching ready to lead us into the season... even had a chance to see the Pirates play the Marlins early on in the season... McClouth, Doumit, Malholm all surprised... still not enough to break .500... baseball was over for me in June...

Alas, my Penguins... my young Penguins blessed with the dynamic duo of Sidney Croasby and Evgeni Malkin... Sid was hurt and Malkin got even better... Fluery went down and Conklin became a wall... the Penguins with the young core dominated the playoffs getting to meet Hockeytown's own Red Wings in the Finals... while we did not expect to be in the Cup Finals this early, once we got there we wanted to win... in heartpounding and then heratbreaking fashion we were beat...

Did somebody say that football was ready to start in Norman??? Led by freshman sensation Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray the Sooners were poised to jump right back to the top of college football... my annual journey to Norman for the home opener was outstanding despite the wicked rain that swept in during halftime delaying the game some 90 minutes. Aside from a little slip in Dallas, the season could not have gone any better... 2008 ended with a bang... both good and bad... Sam wins the Heisman albeit with a cast on his thumb, but Murrya nad now Granger have surgeries resulting from wear and tear of the season thus eliminating them from the game in 2009...

Steeler football was ready to rock and roll... the Steelers were in the process of assembling the best defense the NFL has ever seen... while the offense struggling at times was making the plays when it needed to despite losing 80% of starters from a year ago... atop the AFC North they sit ready for a showdown this week for the #1 seed in the AFC

So looking back... not a bad year... yet it came up a little short in some cases... really short in one instance... what can we look forward to in 2009... a January win for OU??? a February win for the Steelers??? cutting down the nets in April for the Panthers??? Hoisting the Cup this summer (who knows when the NHL playoffs end???) and maybe, just maybe a .500 finish for the Pirates??? Ok... let's not get crazy... the Pirates will be a stretch...

As for me... 2009... I am looking forward to 2009... not sure what it will hold... but much like my teams... I hope to come out on top...

Let me be the first to wish you a Happy and Healthy 2009!!!

Posted on: October 9, 2008 11:28 am
 

Steeler Nation is Alive and Well

I am back from my trip to Jacksonville and I am happy to report that Steeler Nation is alive and well... my trip consisted of two parts, the first being the pep rally that was led by the SteelCity Mafia and headlined by Greg Lloyd. Let me tell you that it was quite the site seeing all of the Steeler faithful rolling into Jacksonville this past weekend. The cars/trucks that were adorned by Black and Gold covered the streets throughout the city.

The pep rally was amazing as the Steeler fans from all over descended upon a small shopping center located on Philips Highway. There were flags on cars, bumper stickers and some even went further with their entire car covered in black and gold memorabilia. We had the official Steeler truck adorned with numerous unique and interesting stickers, we had the Steeler Jeep clad in Black and Gold sporting a new look, a Greg Lloyd autograph on the front fender and finally we had some 3000 Steeler fans attend throughout the day.

The SteelCity Mafia made it a point to treat Steeler fans to a pep rally like no other, they not only brought a Steeler great to meet with the fans, but they did this in the name of charity... donating close to one thousand dollars to the Meal on Wheels of Jacksonville.

There were many highlights on Saturday, way too many to tell you all of them but a quick recap of the big moments... Greg Lloyd arrived to throngs of fans waiting for autographs... he was extremely cordial in dealing with the Steeler faithful, spending time to not only sign, but chat with his adoring fans, he also took a turn in the dunking booth much to he joy of the crowd... while a few people were able to dunk the most feared linebacker of his day, the highlight of that came when a young man with special needs missed on his first two throws and faked a third before he ran and pushed the dunking mechanism dropping Mr. Lloyd once again into the cold waiting water below. The crowd erupted as Greg Lloyd shook the young man's hand after his dip in the water.

Another component that made the day special was the work of a local artist, who displayed some of his work ranging from Jerome Bettis to Hines Ward, Willie Parker to Greg Lloyd. Will Western was the artist and his work was gobbled up by the Steeler fans, many having Greg Lloyd sign Mr. Western's work. I was fortunate enough to get one of those for myself.

As Saturday drew to a close, the Black and Gold were still present making their way to the various hotels, restaurants and bars throughout Jacksonville. Good thing Sunday's game was a night game as the party lasted into the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday was a cloudy day, with scattered showers making it a wonderful day for football... the crowd made it's way to the stadium with the Steeler Nation dominating much of the various parking lots surrounding the stadium. As the early afternoon games ended the crowd started to grow, with more and more Terrible Towels being waved in the air... the tailgating was Steeler strong as the BBQ's began to heat up... the IC Light was flowing, the smack talking was starting and all the while the rumble of Here We Go Steelers can be heard...

Finally the stadium allowed us in to see our warriors... first in the Bud Zone, we were able to see Hines Ward stretching and Ben Roethlisberger tossing around the ball... as they opened the doors, the Steelers fans made their way to the railing, snapping photo after photo of their heroes... The offensive line was out there going over assignments, the receivers were snatching balls from Ben, Byron and Dennis, the defensive backs were getting themselves ready, listening to their ipods... finally the heart and soul of the defense the linebackers specifically the middle linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote made their way onto the field... even though they were not in uniform, they were recognized immediately... the crowd letting them know that Steeler Nation would be with them in Jacksonville... you could see the joy in their faces as the Steeler fans began to chant for their guys... they smiled while stretching realizing that this was going to be a 'home game' in Florida.

In the tunnel they wait, standing just a few steps away, you could feel the energy, feel the buzz of the players... the moments before charging on the field are some of the most intense the players and the fans alike... and then the Boom.... players rush the field as the crowd erupts... something to see when the visiting teams gets a louder ovation than the home team... the National Anthem ends, the flyby shakes the entire stadium and it is game time...

I hope you all watched the game, so I will not recap that here... but I will tell you that the Steeler crowd was treated to a wonderful game... at times stressful, at times disheartening but finally euphoric... as I walked from the stadium savoring the victory, the rumble returned... Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go... Steeler Nation is alive and well

Posted on: September 21, 2008 11:12 am
 

Good Night Yankee Stadium

I will never be confused for a Yankee fan; however Yankee Stadium does hold a special place in my heart...

Billy Crystal had made a comment some time ago about his first ever experience at Yankee Stadium, he mentioned the smell of the stadium, the stale beer and the hot dogs, he mentioned the colors, the greenest grass, the bluest sky, he mentioned the ghosts... and I sat there thinking yeah right... Yankee lover... how can grass be greener or the sky bluer??? and ghosts come on...

He was right... I had the good fortune of going to Yankee stadium on a few occassions, the first time, I do not recall the team, the players, the score, just the stadium... and for me that is rare... all I remember from my first Yankee game was the smells, the colors and the ghosts...

For those who have been, you know what I am talking about... it is a cathedral of baseball... the history of the game is so thick you need to cut through it with your program... everywhere you look something is better than you could have imagined... monument park is a hallowed ground... just thinking about it is giving me chills...

My memories of Yankee Stadium are not nearly as great as many I have seen/heard on television this week, but they all have their place in my heart... Reggie being Reggie (before Manny was being Manny), George Brett racing from the dugout tobacco juice flowing, pine tar on hands, pitching dominance --- Righetti/Cone and Wells, old timer's games as a kid when I was able to see Mick and Yogi, Dimaggio and Rizutto, even Pepitone... and the modern day heroes, Jeter and Williams, Rivera and Posada and even A-Rod...

I had a chance to go to the Stadium last year and see my beloved Pirates... fall to the Yankees and I thought that this would be my last time at this cathedral... I did not properly thank my friend for getting me tickets because I was too caught up in the moment. Even days later I was still breathing in Yankee Stadium air, thinking about the greenest grass, the bluest sky and those ghosts...

So as the Stadium will have it's last game played there tonight, I wanted to take a moment to thank all the people that have made Yankee Stadium great... too many to mention here... and to remind the ghosts, that the trip to the new yard is just across the street, The Babe, The Iron Horse,  The Mick, Joltin Joe and all the others to party tonight, because we will be moving soon!!!

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 15, 2008 10:44 am
 

Penchant for Pirates...

Moving to New York at the ripe of age of one and a half, I grew up in one of the most amazing places in the world and for that I am eternally thankful. My parents relocated to Long Island from the city of Pittsburgh in the spring of 1973, leaving behind their entire life and more importantly their family. While we were able to quickly adjust to big city life, we continued to call Pittsburgh 'home'.

We made annual pilgrimages each and every summer to go 'home' and see the family. This is one of the reasons that I still consider myself a Pittsburgher. During these trips, we went to see grandparents, aunts and uncles and the rest of the family. It was during these trips that I was introduced to sports.

My god-father is an avid runner, waking up before the sun came up, feet continually pounding the dew laden pavement each and every morning. I can vividly recall many a morning watching him trudge his way back down the winding road yearning for the last few strides to be over. As he came down the driveway a smile would appear on his face as he saw me waiting for him to return. We would walk into the garage, stopping at the fridge to grab a quick drink and then we would go to the store. There was nothing special about the store, just a convenience store, he would make his way through the store grabbing a few things (I was not paying attention) making his way back to the register, he paused and grabbed a pack of baseball cards, smiled at me and threw them down with the rest of his items.

When we climbed into the car, he grabbed the pack of cards and handed them to me. Having never seen sports cards before, I looked at him as to find out what I should do... "Open them". My four year old hands could not pull the wax paper off the cards quickly enough. This was my nirvana, the cards appeared to glow in my hands, sixteen pieces of cardboard with glossy pictures, a fabric sticker patch with a batting helmet and of course the best tasting piece of gum I ever tasted.

It was in that moment that we shared a moment that I will never forget. As I shuffled through the cards, he noticed a Pirate and even more importantly the fabric sticker in the pack was a Pittsburgh Pirate batting helmet. I was hooked, that sticker made it's way on to my jacket and I proudly became a Pirate fan that day. Over the next few days we returned to that store, and I would just run from the car to the counter, not worrying about anything but my baseball cards.

Needless to say, this ritual continued and my love for the Pirates grew with each and every pack. Better yet, I came to find that they have football cards, and basketball cards and hockey cards, luckily this was not all at the same time as that would have been too much for me to wrap my four year old mind around. I now had a purpose, I was going to get all of my players, each and every season. This was before card shows and 'cheating' by buying individual cards, I was going to do it the right way, buy a pack with every quarter I came across and find my guys. Anybody that has ever opened a pack of cards knows the feeling that overwhelms you at that moment, the ritual of 'got'em, got'em, got'em, need'em, need'em' as you rifle through one pack after another is unique to that experience. The euphoria of finding the next Pirate, the next Steeler, and the next Penguin was second to none.

So here we are some 30 years or so later, the prices have gone up, the cards are fancier, the gum is gone, but every once in a while, I turn back into that four year old little boy, grab a pack of cards and rifle through them looking for my guys.

Category: MLB
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com