Independence Day

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I am sitting here looking out over PNC Park waiting for the game to begin. I have gorged myself with pulled pork (yuk) cold cuts, three cheese polenta and lots and lots of soda, courtesy of my ten dollar “donation” to the press cafeteria. Oh how I long to be independent from “multi-carbs” and smothered pork chops but, hey that is another story too lengthy and complicated to even attempt to expound upon in this limited space.

First and foremost, the starting pitcher for the Bucco’s “holiday” game was Paul Maholm who entered the July 4th game with a 3.17 ERA. However before the Pirates batted in the bottom of the 3rd inning, the Houston Astros were leading 3-1 with the help of a Pirates shaky and unsettled infield. The Pirates also assisted Astros pitcher Brett Myers with some questionable base running but by the end of the third inning, the game was tied 3-3. Myers entered the game with a 4.60 ERA. The will of both pitchers at times seemed to be questionable.

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There were hot dogs to sell and the collective thirst of the 38,000 plus had to be quenched by beer, soda or water. There were flags to be saluted, the national anthem to be sang, after all this was Independence Day. The Pirates did their best to put on a great performance for this July 4th captive audience because after all, if they didn’t there was a distinct possibility that a percentage of these “fair weather” fans might not return for an “encore performance.”

The ball park was not filled because of some slick bobblehead marketing strategy devised and initiated by the public relations department of the battling Bucs. These fans were not here for the cotton candy or the frankfurters. No, these “pilgrims” were here cameras in hand posing by the Willie Stargell statue to invoke the spirit of the “Lumber Company,” remember them? My mind is swirling as Andrew McCutchen is jogging out into center field. Is this the new time machine working or is it just too darn hot in the press box?

The story has it that PR man Jack McNamara was working to come up with a marketing slogan for the Pirates during the 1970s. His mother who loved baseball talked to him about something about the Pirates that stood out to her.

McNamara recalled that she said; “don’t forget, they can really swing the lumber.'” He said, “a light bulb went off. I wrote down ‘The Lumber Co.’ on a napkin and slid it across the table. It now defines an era in Pirates history, and it defines a type of baseball played back in the ’70s when the Pirates had a lot of power. She was so proud of it.” Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, Richie Hebner, Dave Parker, Mike Easler and Bob Robertson were the free swinging, free for all sluggers that earned the Pirates their “Lumber Co.” slogan, used during the 1976 season.

Here are a few tidbits from ‘The Gunner’ the late legendary Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince. In his raspy drawl, a smoldering cigarette sometimes hanging from his mouth he would be screaming at the top of his lungs almost blowing the speakers on your radio; “there’s a bug loose, on the rug. We had ‘em all the way. Shake those green weenies. What we need now ladies and gentlemen is a bloop and a blast.” “Come over to PNC Park yaw’ll there’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on. Yes, I said come on over to PNC Park yaw’ll, we ain’t fakin’, there’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on” Oh, I got a little excited pre-historic rocker Jerry Lee Lewis was the one who sang about a “whole lotta shakin going on.” Oh well, it’s still true. See, these boys called the Pittsburgh Pirates are shakin’, bakin’ and takin’ no prisoners. They are rumbling for first place.

I am back into the conscious world now, boys and girls. The last out in the seventh inning there was a ball hit near the 410 mark in left center field that would have dropped in for at least a double but after pulling in the reins and waving off leftfielder Alex Pressley, Bucs’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen made a very difficult play look extremely easy coasting under the ball like a young Roberto Clemente. The only thing missing was the signature Clemente basket catch. What a week it was for Andrew McCutchen. He is now truly a young superstar or as the Pirates media folks would put it; “a star among stars.” In the week prior to the July 4th game against the Astros, McCutchen went 11-28(.393) hitting five doubles, one triple, two home runs, six RBI, six runs scored and an .857 slugging percentage.

Will the Pirates ever win another championship or even advance to the post-season? That answer is too far beyond the intellectual capacity of yours truly and in all probability can only be answered by the baseball Gods but this 2011 team is playing more than .500 baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates are playing Fortune 500 baseball.

The Pittsburgh version of the “boys of summer” 2011 seems to have stopped staggering and now is in their swaggering mode. The Pirates beat the Astros 8-5 but the score matters very little. What matters most at this point in the Bucs’ history and their season is that they no longer require gimmicks to get fans into the ball park. As a matter of fact they may need a larger ball park if the team continues to play winning baseball. The crowd of 36,942 ensured the first time the Pirates sold out four consecutive games in the history of 11-year-old PNC Park. At the beginning of the season, I predicted that the Pirates would secure a wild card spot in the MLB postseason. All is now funeral home quiet on the western front. All those who laughed are having trouble rinsing the toe-jam taste from their mouths.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741.)

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