The Pittsburgh Pirates recently welcomed a new Single-A affiliate to the minor league system in the West Virginia Black Bears. With early round draft picks Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer assigned to the team – as well as an opening day pop from a Tyler Glasnow rehab start – enthusiasm was high for the young club.
On that opening night, a substantial rain delay couldn’t dampen fan enthusiasm. The standing-room only crowd eventually saw the Black Bears go on to lose 15-7, but many have said after the pageantry of that opening night that the fans will come back in doves.
I made the trip to Morgantown WV to cover the Black Bears recent tilt against the Hudson Valley Renegades. On this particular night – a cold, periodically rainy Monday evening – that wasn’t the case. The crowd was barely enough to cheer on Hot Pepper Hank as he triumphantly raced to victory in the home-game staple Pepperoni Roll Race.
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Yet a tangible sense of optimism permeated the air. Ask many minor league junkies, and they will tell you that there is something oddly satisfying that they feel when they begin following a young player’s career. As much as fans of the big-league club show “ownership” of the team and its players, the true minor league junkies – such as our own Justin Frazee – take this concept to another level. These prospects are “their guys.” They follow them through all the wacky minor-league promotions, through the half-empty stadiums – following the team bus to nearby away games all while draped in the latest team merch. All of that passion by the fan base, plus the excitement of young players developing in real-time creates an atmosphere of folks enjoying baseball purely for baseball’s sake. Strip away the importance of wins and losses, and you are left with something far more important at this level of the minors – getting better with each game.
It should come as no surprise then that the young hopeful Pittsburgh Pirates of tomorrow are taking in the experience and atmosphere of today. That is not always an easy thing to do for a minor league prospect. The harsh fact is that many of the current Black Bears will not make it to the majors. Such is the life of a low-A prospect. Despite Morgantown being within reasonable driving distance from Pittsburgh, the divide between low-A ball and the bigs is great. Sure, Newman and Kramer look like surefire bets to at least advance in the organization; others will not be so fortunate. To a man, every player I’ve spoken with has had glowing things to say about the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Perhaps none put it as eloquently as Kevin Kramer did, as you can hear below:
The money quote is this:
"They (The Pirates) take the little things seriously; that’s what I like. They develop players,..a lot of guys in their big leagues are from the organization. It’s a first class organization."
Kramer brings up a good point – unless you are a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper-level prospect, your chances of making the big leagues are much higherwith a small-market club such as the Bucs. To properly compete, the Pirates must ‘out-work’ their big market rivals in their minor leagues.
The West Virginia Black Bears have thus far embodied that mindset.
Their continued enthusiasm and hunger to grow may just create some new minor league junkies to take the journey with them.