I am excited about the future of the Pirates. After yesterday’s flurry of deals, the team has traded away virtually every starting position player from 18 months ago. In return, management has gathered a boatload of minor league talent, which bodes well for the years ahead. I am champing at the bit to start looking at the potential 2011 and 2012 teams. But I feel that I must put that off for today.
Objective analysis is my goal in writing about the Pirates. I use numbers as much as possible, and I try to leave out any personal bias. But I am still a fan. And despite how much I liked yesterday’s trades, two of my favorite players just departed in less than 24 hours. I think it is important to take a look back, and I will do that now in a disjointed, rambling post.
I was in high school when Jack Wilson joined the Pirates in 2001, and he instantly became my favorite Pirate. This was likely due to the similarities between his style of play and my own. Just like Jack, I was a defensive-oriented infielder with a weak bat, and I loved to throw my body in front of any baseball that had the audacity to try to reach the outfield. We also shared a youthful enthusiasm for the game of baseball. As Jack developed into a top defensive shortstop, it was easy to root for him.
The 2004 season was very enjoyable, as Jack had a career year at the plate. However, I was dejected when he followed that with a sub par season in 2005. I recall really feeling for him as his frustration clearly expanded throughout the season. But there were numerous fond memories created during those years. On July 2, 2004, I planned to attend a doubleheader against the Brewers at PNC Park. (Unfortunately, an offer for double pay enticed me to trash those plans and head in to work that night.) Among numerous other highlights from the twin bill, Jack delivered an inside-the-park home run. He also made a fabulous defensive play that might be my all-time favorite during his tenure in Pittsburgh. With the bases loaded and nobody out, a Brewer flared one directly over Jack’s head. Jack sprinted back and made a lunging catch, taking a sure single and multiple runs away from Milwaukee. Of all the amazing things he has done with the glove over the years, that is the one that sticks out the most in my head. The next year, as he endured a disastrous season, Jack electrified PNC Park with a grand slam against the Mets. This capped a fantastic couple of games in Pittsburgh, two of the best I have ever attended.
There is one play that exemplifies Freddy Sanchez in my mind. Early in his Pirate career, Freddy was at short with two outs in the ninth inning of a close game in which the Pirates were leading. A broken-bat groundball was hit his way, giving the Bucs a chance to end the game. Unfortunately, the head of the bat was bounding along right next to the baseball. Freddy calmly fielded the ball and threw on to first to secure the victory. He never flinched as the hurtling shard of wood slammed into him, simultaneous to the baseball striking leather. He would miss a few games due to the wound that was inflicted by the bat. Freddy created plenty of great memories during his time with the Bucs. The All-Star Game at PNC Park. The walk-off home run against the White Sox. The walk-off single against the Cubs. I think there was another game-winning hit against the Marlins. (And there are likely other walk-off victories I am forgetting.) The batting championship in 2006. The final day of that season, when Freddy calmly singled in his first two at-bats to secure the title. But nothing compares to the time he fielded a simple groundout and threw across the diamond, despite the danger of a baseball bat careening through the air.
The Pirates are a healthier organization than they were a day ago. The talent level continues to grow, and success is inching closer. But Jack and Freddy will be severely missed, both on and off the field. Good luck to them both.