Pittsburgh Pirates, sports

Hope Springs Eternal

Baseball is underway once again, with its usual perfectly-timed entrance: each new season indelibly tied to gorgeous spring days, a sense of hope eternal paired to the sights and sounds of the ballpark — the crack of the bat, a dog and a drink in the bleachers, the smell of fresh-cut grass on perfectly mowed outfields. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci chugs the whole sentimental Kool Aid down in one gulp:

Opening Day is such a part of Americana that it should be a national holiday … What is Opening Day, after all, but the day not just to dream, but also to believe, that anything is possible?

Well, Tom, I (Ben) want to believe that anything is possible. But I’m a Pirates fan. And crushing reality will soon sink in — by mid-May at the latest, sometimes by late April, occasionally sooner than that. (A quick glance at the preseason standings last week confirmed that, yes, Pittsburgh was 7-21 in exhibition games. SI picked the Pirates to have this season’s worst record. And why wouldn’t you for the team with the league’s lowest payroll at $35 million — about a sixth of the Yankees league-high $206 million, and only $2 million more than Alex Rodriguez alone will earn this year?)

I’m tired of Bud Selig pulling a Lucy and yanking away the football at the last second. Because he of small-market Milwaukee is as responsible as anyone for the enormous disparity in team payrolls caused by the lack of a salary cap. Frank Deford hits it on the head in his NPR commentary:

The reality in baseball — as long as there is no salary cap to equalize things as there is in our other popular team sports — the reality is that the Yankees and a few other rich teams are going to buy championships, while little old mid-major cities really can’t compete. … Sure, quirky things can happen in the playoffs. But at this Opening Day, we are only reminded again that for all baseball’s welter of statistics, it remains a sport without a salary cap — so, ultimately, the only numbers that matter are the ones that follow the dollar sign.

Hear, hear, Frank! And this follows on the heels of his commentary saying what a terrible idea expanding the NCAA field would be for men’s basketball. He speaks the truth, folks.

As for Opening Day, the Buccos beat the Dodgers, 11-5. Garrett Jones hit two home runs. It was Pittsburgh’s fourth straight Opening Day win.

Reason to hope this year might be different for the Pirates? Their payroll is the same as it was in 1992 … the last year Pittsburgh had a winning record.

Here I go hoping again.


One thought on “Hope Springs Eternal

  1. As an Indians fan, my team isn’t *quite* as hopeless, but they’re quite middle-of-the-pack and thus there’s always *hope* but rarely a payoff on that investment.

    Okay, the fact is that I’m not a real baseball fan. In a good summer I’ll catch a few Tribe games and start really paying attention as the playoff picture clarifies. If the Indians are in the hunt, I’ll pay more attention. If not, less. Okay, “less” isn’t really possible at that point, but I trust you to get my point.

    Maybe it’s because the season’s so long and the games are not as neatly spaced as in football season, but the lack of parity is surely a part of it too. I suspect I’d be more interested if I actually believed my team had a reasonable chance.

    And let me also say that I love PNC park and watching Pirates baseball. This love grew when I lived outside of Pitttsburgh for six years. It didn’t happen with the Steelers, because they’re a divisional rival of my Bengals and I hate them. But the Pirates, as a National League team and a hapless one at that, were easy to love. It was, in oh so many ways, like loving your local high school team (though, for that matter, I think our local high school team beat the pirates in a handful of scrimmages). But the park is so nice, and you can always get great seats on the spur of the moment and they’re cheap relative to a lot of ballparks. And for whatever reason, they had a tendency to actually win when I went out to the ballpark. So I consider them my NL team. But I don’t hold out a ton of hope of getting the chance to embrace them publicly in the post-season.

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