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Preseason hype for the Pirates: A strange new world

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I've always devoured season preview publications. It started with Sports Illustrated for Kids before I graduated to the standard Sports Illustrated, then discovered the Baseball Prospectus annuals.

One year, maybe 1996, I dug into the March issue of SI for Kids.

"They picked the Pirates to finish fifth in the division," I said, with a positive inflection even, to my dad.

"How many teams are in the division, five?" he responded.

There were, in fact five teams in the NL Central at the time. But it was March and I just wanted to talk about baseball.

Much has been written about the differences between the Pirates' last couple Septembers and Octobers and the 20 that came before them. But we haven't had Marches or Aprils like these in a long time either. For the younger generation of Pirates fans, this is one part of 2015 that is still new.

I thought these expectations, this feeling of hype-induced excitement, was going to come in 2014, part of this great new world of being a fan of a real live competitive baseball team. Instead, A.J. Burnett's departure and our general tendency towards the negative made for a pretty cautious feeling during the spring, actually.

For whatever reason, Russell Martin's departure hasn't created the same reluctance in the fan base. Maybe it's the second straight playoff trip. Maybe it's Burnett's return. I don’t know.

Now we live in a world where national media types are picking the Pirates to win the World Series and not even getting laughed at. Suddenly the Pirates are America's Team.

The last two seasons provided enough benchmarks that by the time the postseason came around, the Pirates being a part of it felt right. I've never gone into a season, right off the bat, with this kind of excitement, though. It's totally weird and, honestly, I'm not totally comfortable with it. Everything I thought would be said about the Cubs this spring is being said about the Pirates. And we know how reliable baseball predictions are.

I’m trying to soak it in, though. Much like that long-awaited first winning season or first playoff appearance in a long, long time, we as fans have reached our first hyped-up April. That in itself is kind of cool.