On Wednesday night, PNC Park will host a true nationally-televised game for the first time in its 13-year existence. The Pittsburgh Pirates will host the Oakland Athletics in the conclusion of their three-game interleague series, and ESPN cameras and crew will be onsite to document every pitch.
For the Pirates and their fans, this attention probably feels pretty good, at least at first. It’s only natural to desire some of the spotlight that has largely avoided Pittsburgh’s baseball club since it began its odyssey 20,000 leagues under the sea.
But there is also a wariness that comes with being the new media darlings, as the Pirates have become with their push into playoff contention. Clint Hurdle expressed as much last week, when he spoke of turning down some recent national media requests. The Bucs manager justified that decision in the name of eliminating “distractions,” but also because “a lot of those people didn’t care about the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first two years” he was in charge.
That seems a bit petty and shortsighted on first glance, but I believe Hurdle’s on the right track. The Pirates have to know that the kudos can dry up just as fast as they arrived, if only because they experienced it last summer. So many of the “here come the Pirates!” stories we’ve seen lately are essentially carbon copies of the press the Bucs received in 2012 when they surged to 16 games over .500.
For all the positive attention the Pirates got last year at their apex, it turned quickly when they stumbled to the finish. That’s the way it should be. As Hurdle mentioned at the above link, “they don’t break trophies in half” in the major leagues. The Bucs have some baggage to overcome; if they can hold strong through September, then they will have accomplished something.
Until then, pardon the Pirates if they dismiss the ESPN klieg lights as they try to get back on the positive side of the ledger. A four-game losing streak has pushed Pittsburgh out of first place in the National League Central, a healthy challenge at this stage of the season.
Publications like the Atlantic are practically calling the Pirates’ management team geniuses not long after many of the same voices called them crooks, but life and baseball don’t function in absolutes. Just because the Bucs are winning doesn’t mean they’re doing everything right, just like how when they were losing they weren’t doing everything wrong.
Those kinds of declarative statements make for good copy, but they don’t fully explain how the Pirates have put themselves in great position to end a two-decade postseason drought. If the Bucs stay in the race, more eyes will look their way.
In the meantime, they would be wise to shrug it off.