Inside Conditions…’The Bat Pack’

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Pedro Alvarez strikes out against Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tony Cingrani in the eighth inning of a baseball game, Monday, June 17, 2013, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 4-1. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

 

As of Monday morning the Pittsburgh Pirates had a six game lead on  the San Francisco Giants and  the San Diego Padres as far as a claiming a potential wild card spot in the MLB National League race toward the post season.

The only thing that worries me, I mean really really, worries me is the Bucs’ lack of consistency on offense.  I am really concerned that once the offense catches up to the pitching there might be a slew of arms that might be too worn out to be effective even if Pittsburgh advances.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle continues to do a masterful and magical job in regards to gleaning all that he can from his slightly above average pitching staff.  Now he must divert his attention to the “bats” of the Bucs’ so that they may become a force in the success of the team.

The team has a good defense and a borderline great pitching staff but the pitchers have to have elevated blood pressure levels when they take the mound almost every game wondering if the offense is going to show up.  

Oh yeah, I have heard all of the glib and folksy sayings; “a good offense is a great defense. Defense wins championships, one less run scored on you means one less run that you have to score and so on and so on…But you know what guys and dolls?  When you score runs in baseball that means your opponents are going to be forced to use their entire reservoir of athletes especially role players to pinch hit in the later innings when a team is usually in a catch up position and also having to use more relief pitchers than they have to.  

The more any team forces the opponent to deplete their reserves those players will not be as rested when the post season rolls around. When any team in any sports has a good offense the other team will always be back on their heels.

When the Pirates had the “lumber company” one of the most feared lineups during the last 40 years in baseball, the Pirates pitchers could relax, gamble and take the mound and throw with confidence. Most of the time they did not worry too much about throwing a homerun ball or two because they understood that the seventh, eighth and ninth innings generally belonged to the boys’ “who ran hard and carried the big sticks.

Pitchers did not have to fret and go into the dugout and bash water coolers and smash bats against the walls because they knew if they just relaxed and got their act together the Calvary was on the way led by five star General Clemente, four star general Wilver Dornell Stargell and the rest of the “green weenie” battalion there was bound to be a few “bugs loose on the rug” as the Bob “the gunner” Prince would say before the night was over.

When your team can hit in baseball, that single component of the game can bring loads of confidence to your team and shivers of fear to the opponent. Nothing can shake a team on the field or in the dugout more than hearing an electric crack of the bat, followed by an outfielder not even moving an inch as he watches the baseball on a specific trajectory as it exits the ballpark. The Pirates have to put a complete team on the field if they are going to be successful in the short and long term. Pirates GM Neil Huntington has stopped the bloodletting as far as giving away all of the Pirates prospects and great talent is concerned but the Pirates have to put all of their marbles out there so they may have a maximum chance of winning everyday.  

This team is getting ready to blossom but the gardener has to keep fertilizing the rosebush.

Gone but not unforgotten.
There are athletes that never receive the accolades and credit that they deserve.  Then there are everyday folks, our families, neighbors and friends that love and play sports for recreation, as a stress reliever or for just plain fun.  Many of them are stars of the sidewalk sidelines and the asphalt courts of America. One such young man was “little” Robert Nichols. Robert was my neighbor, no correction he was more like a son to me for over a decade and he was afflicted with sickle cell anemia.  To me he represented more than just constant hospital stays and blood transfusions.

Although for most of his young life (he passed away less than a month after we celebrated his 21st birthday) he was far too ill and it was far too risky for him to participate in organized sports but it was always a beehive of neighborhood activity around the basketball hoop that his mother Leslie set up for him and his “boys” directly across the street from her garage.   

Robert had one of the sweetest jump shots I have ever seen, Michael J. and “Doctor J.” would have been impressed. And when football season rolled around out came the Black and Gold and man;  I am convinced that with his “shake” move he could juke Darrelle Revis, or even my boy Ike Taylor out of their shoes. Robert is one of the fallen but he will not remain down or forgotten.  

I am going to miss his fist pumping after making a “3” but more than that, way more that that I am going to miss him. When you look up into the sky tonight and it appears that one of the stars is missing  from the “Big Dipper” constellation don’t rub your eyes or think that you are confused because you are not having an illusion. A star was born but now a star is gone.  

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

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