It remains slightly cool and breezy on the PNC Park playing field and I have just returned from the Pirates initial batting practice for the 2014 season. Pittsburgh appears not to be staggering out of the gate unsure of anything in 2014 but swaggering into the season.
If attitude is an accurate barometer of success then this team will not back their way into the 2014 playoffs as they did in 2014. The Pirates will be crackin heads and taking names. Whoever the competition may be whether it is the St. Louis “Cards” or the Cincinnati “Redlegs,” Pittsburgh’s divisional NL Central rivals, or any other ballclub, the battling Buccos seem to be coming out of the gate ready to take care of business.
During the opening pregame ceremonies, 2013 National League MVP Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen received his MVP plaque from former Pirate great Barry Bonds,(who won 7 NL MVP awards himself) and Dick Groat. Former Pirates and Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland presented the MLB manager of the year award to Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle. I was appalled and disappointed at what happened next.
Although I along with everyone else expected it, when it happened it didn’t lessen the shock. The Pittsburgh fans booed former Pittsburgh Pirate and San Francisco Giant outfielder Barry Bonds when he was introduced as if he was their mortal enemy. There have been many players that have left Pittsburgh who were cheered heartily when they returned playing for the opposition. Jaromir Jagr and Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa immediately come to mind. There may have been a smattering of boos when Hossa took the ice recently in a Penguins 4-1 victory at the Consol Energy Center but nothing like the acid based and venomous boos showered upon Bonds.
Bonds, with a ready smile, displayed no such feelings toward Pittsburgh or Pirate fans.
At the pregame press conference someone asked Bonds whose idea was it for him to participate in the opening ceremonies? Did he approach the Pirates or did the Pirates approach him?
He replied casually without a hint of hostility in his voice, “they [the Pirates] approached me?” When Bonds was asked why it was so important for him to be here he answered with both dignity and passion.
“This was a wonderful city that I played for. I got to play for one of the best managers in all of baseball. I loved it here, Pittsburgh was a great town, a great city. I wanted to play with [Jim] Leyland for a whole career, but things change; it’s an honor to be back here.”
It is sad and represents a black eye for Pittsburgh that love is short and hate lives forever.
Back in 1995 when outfielder Al Martin was patrolling the banks of the Monongahela for the Pirates there was a period when Martin was booed for no obvious reason. I asked him what it was like to be booed “just because.”
He said: “I try not to let it bother me, but we’re all human and there are times that I become frustrated especially when people walk up to me and say; “you’re a bum you don’t deserve all of that money.” But in the end you have to consider the source.”
As far as the game goes we are now in the top of the ninth, starter Francisco Liriano has long exited the mound and Pirates strongest closer, NL All-Star Jason Grill is now throwing “smoke” for the Buc’s.
The Chicago Cubs are not expected to do much in the NL Central division this season and that makes them a very unpredictable team now and in the future. The game has remained scoreless through nine innings and Chicago has demonstrated to the Pirates along with their starting pitcher right hander Jeff Samardzija that they are a scrappy bunch.
The bottom of the 10th has rolled around and “goose eggs” still occupy the scoreboard. Both teams have managed to eke out 5 hits and all of a sudden, wham! Neil Walker sends one out of the yard and presto, the Pirates win 1-0 and raise the “Jolly Roger” on opening day……great start to hopefully a prosperous and winning year for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Aubrey Bruce is the Senior Sports Columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.583.6741