Today is July 6, 2011. It's feeling like 1997, though, which is long before PNC Park (pictured here) was ever dreamt up. It was 1997 the last time the Pirates were this close to the division lead, and they were actually leading the division. The Central apparently was weak that year, though. The Pirates were leading the pack with a 42-43 record. They would finish second in the division that year at 79-83, five games back. The Astros won that year, and were promptly swept by the Braves. The last time the Pirates were winning on this date was back in 1992, when there were still two divisions and the Pirates took a winning record (and maybe the division lead) wire-to-wire.
For those that haven't been paying attention, baseball is back in Pittsburgh. All the Indy products I followed (with some outside the organization pitching help) for a few summers have managed to get the Pirates into sole possession of second place in the division, a game and a half down of a pretty surprising St. Louis team (given all the injuries), and four games over .500. I'm told the Pirates have sold out their last five games, which is a good sign.* I'm also told they've been on national TV a few times recently, which is even better. Unfortunately, I've not been able to watch, because my mom's cable doesn't really get ESPN. Don't even ask about MLB Network. It's been frustrating. We'll be moving into the new apartment soon, though, and I can get my DirecTV back.
*Even if it was probably just the 4th of July weekend boost, it's still nice to see.
I've been a lifelong Cubs fan, but let's face it. This year's version is bad and downright boring. I've got a more personal connection to the players in Pittsburgh. PNC Park, as you can see above, is a gem of a park that I really need to get to. It has made me think pretty hard about maybe getting MLB Extra Innings so I can watch the Pirates regularly. If I weren't such a cheapskate, I probably would. Plus, I know I'm going to have to start paying for NFL Sunday Ticket so Kristine can watch the Packers, which also makes me hesitant. So, yeah, for this year, I have to quit pretending and just admit it. I'm a Pirates fan.
And even better news for the Pirates? There's still help down on the farm. Indianapolis got off to a dismal start. It really looked for all the world that all the talent in the organization was either newly drafted or in Pittsburgh. But since then, Indy has been on a tear, and just broke through to the plus side of .500 themselves at 44-43. Alex Presley just got called up pretty recently. I've not got to see him in a Pirates uniform yet, but I can tell you that he is definitely ready to go. Another boost to the season. And the Indy Indians continue to win. There's still some talent yet to be added.
Call me crazy, but I think the Pirates just might win this thing. And even if they don't, I think you can go ahead and start engraving Clint Hurdle's name on the "Manager of the Year" award. I don't think I was alone in thinking this might be the year they break .500, but I don't think anybody had them contending for a playoff spot.