My better half and I were having dinner the other night with two other couples, and the conversation – at least on the men’s side of the table – turned to local sports. And despite the fact that position players won’t start filtering into Florida for another seven weeks or so, the topic of the Pirates’ offseason quickly surfaced. One of the guys, a lifelong Pirates fan soured by decades of losing, mentioned that he was not impressed with the changes made in the front office – i.e., the hiring of Ben Cherington – or the signing of Derek Shelton to manage the club in 2020. Basically, he said, it’s just more of the same, with different names and faces.
I can understand the skepticism on the part of the local fan base. They’re tired of losing. I grew up here and lived in the area until I was 20, but I got to see some outstanding baseball from the late 1960s to the mid-‘70s. In fact, the club finished at least 14 games above .500 in six of the last seven years I lived here. A season below .500 was an oddity during that stretch. While living 3,000 miles away, I continued to follow the Pirates, but it’s not the same as when you’re here and you’re surrounded by games and baseball talk day after day. So, while I was disheartened by the two decades of losing that followed the divisional championship teams of the early ‘90s, it didn’t leave me as bitter as it would have had I seen it up close and personal all of those years.
I’ve been back in the area for 15 years and certainly have gone through some rough patches, but I tend to be a little more optimistic. So when I run into a person whose knee-jerk reaction to change, whether it’s in the front office or in the manager’s office, is negative, I can understand, but I simply can’t get on board.
Similarly, I can’t agree with those who were critical of the Pirates’ lack of activity at the recent winter meetings in San Diego. One local media personality tweeted for days about how the Pirates did absolutely nothing at the meetings. I am relatively slow to anger – must be that blood pressure medicine -- but how could anyone possibly know what Cherington and his associates did for a week? Just because no trades were consummated doesn’t mean that they failed to accomplish anything.
While I understand that some people want quick results, that’s not at all important to me – despite my advanced age. The last thing I’d want to see a new regime do is start making wholesale changes without taking the time to get to know what they have – and who they have to work with. Now, that doesn’t mean I’d like to see the club stand pat and make no changes. In fact, I wouldn’t be opposed to dealing two of the team’s best position players – Starling Marte and Josh Bell – if the price was right. And bringing in a solid starting pitcher certainly would be a plus. But if the club starts the 2020 season with the current roster – and that starting pitcher – I wouldn’t be complaining.
Even if the new front office won’t use the r-word – rebuilding – that’s essentially what the Pirates are embarking on. And that’s a process that takes patience. I want to give Cherington and his staff the benefit of the doubt – and a little time – before I start taking shots. The beauty of baseball, at least for me, is that it’s slow. A game takes time to complete. So does building an organization. Call me crazy, but I’m actually optimistic about the direction the Pirates are headed.