x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pirates fans are hungry for more

The Pittsburgh team went into the weekend a mere half-game out of first place in the National League Central with a record of 51-46.

The Pittsburgh Pirates players have been giving their fans reasons to celebrate.
The Pittsburgh Pirates players have been giving their fans reasons to celebrate.

It has been 18 long years since the Pittsburgh Pirates last enjoyed a winning season, a record of ineptitude that puts them in a class of their own among the four major North American sports leagues.

The last time the Pirates won more than they lost, Bill Clinton had yet to be elected to his first of two terms as US President. Only a handful of players who were in the big leagues then are active now.

But those handful may soon see history repeat itself. The Pirates went into the weekend a mere half-game out of first place in the National League Central with a record of 51-46.

Ordinarily at this time of year, the Pirates are raising the proverbial white flag and getting ready to sell off some veteran players to other contending teams.

This season, as a measure of how far the Pirates have come, Frank Coonelly, the team president, has said they will be looking to add, rather than subtract.

Fans have noticed. Attendance is up sharply and the Pirates have people talking baseball again in Pittsburgh.

"This is like a Cinderella story,'' Andrew McCutchen, an All-Star Game outfielder selection earlier this month, told USA Today.

"It'd be great for our city to end the streak [of losing seasons], but after that comes and goes, what's next? Nobody's going to be satisfied with that. We're hungry for more. The fans are hungry for more.

"That's why we don't set our goals to just be over .500. We're hungry to win a championship."

The Pirates are an odd blend of home-grown players, inexpensive free agents and low-profile castoffs who have come together to contend in a scrambled division that had four teams separated by just four-and-a-half games.

Perhaps the biggest difference maker has been their first-year manager, Clint Hurdle, who preached optimism from the very beginning of spring training. "I told them, 'I don't care about .500. I want you to talk about winning the [division], winning the World Series,'" Hurdle told USA Today. "If you can't think it, or you can't say it, how are you going to do it?"

In February, those comments seemed laughable. Now, they appear wonderfully prophetic. The Fall Classic might be asking too much, but playing second-half games that matter is reason enough for excitement in Pittsburgh.

sports@thenational.ae