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Four magic words: pitchers and catchers report

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers report.

For the last 55 years or so, the phrase has had a magical quality for me.

Today is that day, and despite the fact that your Pittsburgh Pirates have many more questions than answers, it doesn’t detract from the joy and anticipation that comes with another spring training.

Many Pirates fans, hardened by years of following a team that steadfastly refuses to spend money, already have written off 2020, saying that even though the management team might have changed, the guy holding the wallet hasn’t. And, therefore, there’s no hope for meaningful change. So why care about the team?

I certainly can understand that line of thinking – but I don’t subscribe to it. Perhaps it’s because during most of the 20-plus years of losing that started in the early ‘90s, I had the good fortune to be living 3,000 miles from PNC Park. Yes, I followed the Pirates closely, but not the way one follows a team when it’s a 20-minute drive away. So, the pain that came with all of that losing wasn’t as sharp; time and distance dampened it.

Eight years after moving back from the West Coast, I had the opportunity to witness the Pirates return to glory, albeit briefly. The Cueto game made me think back to my days as a teen, when the Pirates routinely found themselves involved in postseason play and even brought home a World Series title in that magical 1971 season. For a three-season run starting in 2013, the Pirates averaged 93 victories, and the future looked bright. We all know what happened, though.

Still, as pitchers and catchers trickle into Pirate City, and the position players aren’t far behind, I remain plenty optimistic. Optimistic that whomever the Pirates put on the field will provide a compelling reason to pay attention for the next eight months. The great thing about baseball is that, even though we think we know what’s going to happen, we often get surprised. Players you expect to deliver can fall flat. Others come out of nowhere to have the year of their lives. It’s real-life drama played out over 162 acts. And the rehearsals start today.

My glasses aren’t too rose-colored to obscure the weaknesses that dot the Pirates roster. The starting rotation performed poorly a year ago, and the same cast of characters is back for more. New general manager Ben Cherington traded away perhaps the team’s best all-around position player in Starling Marte for two players who likely won’t see PNC Park until 2024 or so. No meaningful free agents were signed – again. But I can’t help but see the bright spots. Josh Bell established himself as a budding star. Bryan Reynolds looked like a quality big-league outfielder. Adam Frazier proved me wrong by showing he can be a productive everyday player. Kevin Newman showed potential in the middle infield. And down on the farm, Ke’Bryan Hayes flashed star-quality leather to dream on.

USA Today last week picked the Pirates to go 60-102 – worst in the National League and the third-worst record in all of baseball. I don’t see it. Despite last year’s debacle, I see the Pirates – barring an outright fire sale – winning in the neighborhood of 72-75 games. That’s hardly anything to shout about, but I’m not worried about the record. I’m worried about management giving playing time to those who need it – the aforementioned Hayes, for example, and Cole Tucker. And giving Mitch Keller 25 starts. I want to see what they’re capable of doing at the big league level. If the Pirates lose 90 games in the process, so be it. I’ll still be watching and listening. And looking forward to pitchers and catchers reporting again next year.