It’s that magical time of year again. The plants start to think about getting green, the birds start coming back North, and the Pittsburgh Pirates offer us glimmers of hope that this may finally be the year when they win more than they lose. Last season they gave us that false hope of mediocrity when they spent the first half of the season playing respectable baseball, much deeper into the year than they have in a long time. Yet again, I have the hope that this will the year they achieve mediocrity. I’ve had that hope for the last few years, each time being disappointed at some point. I remember believing that Zach Duke would be the one that would lead the team to respectability. Remember that magical start to his career? 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA! Unfortunately young Duke has gone 40-72 since then, with his presence in a Pirates uniform a distant memory. That was the way it was with each new Pirate hero, a tantalizing tidbit of talent displayed only to vanish with a few games under their belt. I’ve been suffering through this since the Fam-a-lee days (remember those?) but now I’m starting to think the tide may be turning. Neil Walker, that guy who previous front office folks didn’t think a lot of, has been turning into a modern day Bill Mazeroski. Sure, no one will ever play second base as good as old Maz, but Walker has been playing the position in a highly respectable manner with decent offensive output. Andrew McCutcheon seems to be a solid center fielder. Alex Presley and Jose Tabata have shown they belong in the majors. Garret Jones has been a Pittsburgh-type, blue collar player. Former favorite Nate McClouth is back. Solid veterans Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes have been added for stability. But the biggest reason for hope (or the biggest question mark if you’re a pessimist) is the pitching staff. Suddenly there are six (yes six!) different starters who show the potential for double-digit victories. Perhaps first and foremost of that bunch is recently added A.J. Burnett, who has the potential to be the best of the staff. With Burnett, Karstens, Bedard, Correia, Morton, and McDonald (mustn’t forget Lincoln who will fill in any gaps) starting the games and then passing the ball off to Hanrahan and a healthy Meek to close the games out there is definitely reason for optimism. It doesn’t hurt that Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are out of the way either. Maybe this will be it. Maybe the young and old alike will reach their potential. Maybe this will be the magical year the .500 record of mediocrity will finally be achieved. Or maybe we’ll just see another close but no cigar year. Hey, we’re Pirates fans. We can take the agony of defeat. Can we take the heady glow of mediocrity?
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