I can hear the outburst now: “What to be thankful for? Nothing!” But with Thanksgiving now a day in the rearview mirror, as we reflect on our gluttonous Turkey Day activities and how we probably should’ve gone for a run before eating, perhaps we can carve out some time to conjure up reasons to be thankful for — or in relation to — Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball.
1. A direction
Before the exit of general manager Neal Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly, it seemed like the organization was spinning its wheels, staying in the same place and remaining noncommittal about a direction for the organization. At points it seemed like the Pirates were trending towards a rebuild, and at others times it looked like they might make a move towards contending.
All of that culminated in the trade of Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz, putting the Pirates behind the proverbial eight ball for the time being, and ultimately resulting in the firing of major front office personnel.
Now that Ben Cherington has taken over in Pittsburgh, a direction is clear. Tear it down, build it up. While we may be tired of the Pirates’ often seemingly perpetual state of rebuilding in order to contend during some unforeseen and challengingly unpredictable date in the future, it’s refreshing to know what the organization is actually doing.
2. Ke’Bryan Hayes
This is a no-brainer. Hayes is the third baseman of the future of the Pirates and what an abbreviated rookie campaign he had. The 23-year-old slashed .376/.442/.682, an OPS of 1.124, a wRC+ of 195, and contributed 1.7 fWAR over 24 games.
While the expectation won’t be for him to attain those lofty numbers again, for obvious reasons, he was a bright spot in a sea of darkness at PNC Park this year. While many players regressed this season, Hayes took his first taste of big league baseball and made it count. Pushing Colin Moran out of the hot corner, Hayes will hopefully give the fans a good glove and strong bat to watch for years to come.
3. Kumar Rocker
Yes, I’m assuming the Pirates do the right thing and pull the trigger on Rocker. The Vanderbilt standout is widely expected to be the number one overall pick, and while the Pirates have been the subject of jokes regarding an inability to draft high (Bryan Bullington, Daniel Moskos, Brad Lincoln, Tony Sanchez), those days have been gone for some time now.
Rocker will be expensive, certainly, but the price of drafting Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell didn’t dissuade the front office and owner Bob Nutting from taking them high. I expect the same will prove true for Rocker. After all, he’s the ace of the future. Once the NCAA baseball season gets underway, I suspect Pirates’ fans will keep a close eye on the dominant righty in Nashville.
4. John Baker
Most of my knowledge about Baker came from his time playing with the Florida Marlins. But Baker has made waves from an organizational standpoint for his reliance on modern approaches and his trust in those around him.
In a refreshing departure from the know-it-all attitude that has pervaded airwaves of late, Baker recently had a quote regarding his trust in those around who have more expertise in a specific area. According to The Athletic, Baker said, “I understand what my weaknesses are, and although I am looking to figure out different ways to bring those things up for this value of continuous learning, when I don’t have expertise in an area, I do have trust in the people that are around me.”
5. PNC Park
No, this isn’t exclusive to changes stemming from the 2020 season, but the Pirates have had the crown jewel of ballparks since it was first constructed in 2001. Routinely topping ballpark lists from all sources, fans in Pittsburgh have at least one reason to attend games during the many years of futility.
Picture perfect views lie beyond the playing field, with the Allegheny River floating by, carrying barges and the Gateway Clipper Fleet; the Roberto Clemente bridge connecting the North Shore to downtown; when you mix those things together, you create a view that’s tough to beat. None of us got to experience all of that this year, but I often find myself thinking about warm summer nights after the sun has just set, baseball being played, and the hum of the crowd buzzing around me.
Certainly, the Pirates often flout the ballpark in lieu of a quality on-field product, but hey, I would, too. With all of the new parks cropping up across the country, none of them have reached the allure and purely enjoyable experience of PNC Park. In many ways, the future of the Pirates might be as murky as the Allegheny, but we’ll always have an enjoyable spot to watch it from.
Let’s go Bucs.