God we love Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training. So after we spent some time on the slopes today, we came home and dug up some photos from last year.
Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata were the highlight for us at Bradenton. We also saw Garrett Jones and reported he looked like a tight end that would fit well on the Steelers roster. Jones raked, but to watch Pedro square up on the ball made my heart race. Tabata looked comfortable at the plate and appeared to be in great physical condition.
Andrew McCutchen was signing everything fans would put near him. Cutch spent a great deal of time with the fans on the right field line before heading to the dugout. The fans were watching Cutch last year as they will watch Tabata and Alvarez this year, will they be ready to help the big league club?
Joe Kerrigan was working hard with the pitchers who were among the worst in baseball during the 2008 season. The popping sound of the catcher’s mitt immediately brought a smile to my face as we walked toward the bullpen.
The source of the glorious sound was a menacing looking lefty named Donnie Veal, who is listed at 6’4″ and 235 pounds. When we feasted our eyes on Veal for the first time that morning, my jaw dropped. He wasn’t the typical Pirate lefthander. He seemed so much taller, thicker and imposing than the left handers we were used to seeing in Black and Gold– Zach Duke, Sean Burnett, Paul Maholm or Phil Dumtrait. We were immediately hooked on the idea that the Rule 5 kid could make the club.
The overwhelming feeling at McKechnie Field was youth. Looking past the veterans who were still part of the Pirates back then, it was easy to see the future. But nothing like we will see this year of course. Spring Training 2009 will look like the terrain park at the resort today. The roster is filled with talented kids just waiting their turn to prove themselves.
Tabata will be 22 in August. Pedro will turn 23 in February. Veal will be 26 in September. All of these young players are merely single facets on a large gemstone that is starting to come into sharper focus.
The Pirates will be the youngest team in MLB. That’s exciting to the fans. Enough so, that, season ticket sales are on a sharp uprise. With the great team the Pirates have in the sales offices, that increase will certainly continue to climb as the buzz around the Pirates increases in 45 days.
One would think after such a hard winter, even casual fans are going to want to break out of the cabin and see what the Pirates have going on at PNC Park come April, especially with the challenging early schedule.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. So is anyone else going down to Florida? Who is everyone looking forward to see?
Competition will be evident all over the diamond and two players stand out for us. Rule 5 pick John Raynor will turn 26 tomorrow and will be in competition with Brandon Moss in the OF. Jeff Clement will be turning 27 in August and will be trying to learn how to play first base.
A huge question will be the nearly entirely new bullpen that will be in place. We still aren’t sure who that will be, but it’s less than a month and a half away and it can’t get here fast enough….