Sunday April 3, 2016 was opening day for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, with a 1 p.m. start and a game time temperature of 39 degrees at PNC Park, the 2016 MLB season opener pitting the Pirates against one of their staunch NL Central rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, could have easily been confused for a late October, early November Pittsburgh Steelers battle against one of their NFL, AFC North combatants taking place at neighboring Heinz Field.
With the temperature being just a few degrees north of freezing, I was initially concerned with the players on both squads maybe pulling groins, as well as pitchers straining their arms and a host of other “pulled” muscle related injuries that often happen in cold weather, especially in light of returning to Pittsburgh after preparing for the current campaign at their balmy preseason home Bradenton, FL as well as playing away games at other parts of the “Sunshine State”
Boys’ and girls’ hold your horses. When Pittsburgh Pirates ace lefty Francisco Liriano took to the mound to face Cardinals star Adam Wainwright, Liriano appeared as if he was throwing from the “forge” of one of the few steel mills continuing to operate and produce steel in Pittsburgh, allowing just three hits and five bases on balls while striking out 10 before he was relieved in the top of the seventh inning; The Pirates beat the Cards 4-1 while Liriano also helped his own cause by driving in a run in the bottom of the second inning.
While sparks were flying from the arm of Liriano, former Cardinal infielder David Freese who was the 2011 World Series MVP for St. Louis punched out a couple of hits against the “Redbirds” while theoretically subbing for Pirates third baseman/infielder Jung Ho Kang who was injured in 2015 and was out for the remainder of 2015 with a knee injury after a “questionable“ and what many consider a “dirty slide”. In mid-September 2015, Kang suffered a tibial plateau fracture with a lateral meniscal repair after attempting to complete the throw to from second to first base in the midst of an “overzealous” slide by the Cubs Chris Coghlan while Kang was trying to turn a double play in the first inning of a 9-6 loss to the Cubs at PNC Park.
As far as offense goes, Freese has a career B.A of .276 with 68 homers and 348 RBI’s and possesses more power than the average infielder. He may also be the answer to increased production from the number 3 spot in the Pirates batting order, possibly taking away some of the constant pressure heaped upon Pirates All-Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen to constantly perform flawlessly both offensively and defensively.
The Pirates were far more blessed than lucky to acquire the skills, experience, and veteran leadership of David Freese. When you have not only been part of a winning and storied franchise like the St. Louis Cardinals, but a World Series MVP for your ball club, winning becomes mandatory in the clubhouse and obligatory for your fan base, winning becomes a part of the culture. The Pirates and their “Nation” should not hope to win, they should expect to win; not just merely a wildcard game or a divisional series or a National League Championship series. The one and only goal for the Pittsburgh Pirates should have been, should now be, and should forever remain to just simply win the MLB World Series.
(The sources for this article were espn.com and mlb.com)
Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.583.6741
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