June 28, 2011

Pirates Baseball '011: On Stranger Tides

By Robb Witmer Full  |  June 28, 2011

Having been deemed by the staff of the Dr. Clayton Forrester Shock Therapy Institute to be "completely and extremely sane," the author was granted his unconditional release from the hospital on the morning of Monday, June 27, 2011. He had been in in-patient care since late January.

At the time of his release, the Pittsburgh Pirates, coming off their eighteenth consecutive losing season, had a record of 39-38, and stood only four games behind first place in the National League Central Division.

For the last few days of his stay at Forrester, the author was permitted access to newspapers, both as a way of testing his readiness for, and as a way to acclimate him to, the outside world. The results were mixed. Rage levels were determined to be "high, but acceptable. Non-dangerous so far."

The following is an e'mail composed by the author to Robinzon Chavez, his editor at America-Thrust, written in the hours preceding his release from Forrester.

Chavez --

In just a few short hours I'll be out of this rat-trap and on the first boat to Pirate's Paradise to find your stinking carcass. If only because I need something to kick around for a while.

If you haven't heard the news, I'm dipping out of this gyp-joint before lunchtime today. Finally, I've received sufficient doses of electricity to eradicate my crippling Gambling Insanity forever. I'm cured; thank the lord, I'm cured.

Now, on to sporting matters, since that is what we're still doing here, is it not? Sorry I've not been in touch of late. Busy, eh? Just getting the living bejesus shocked out of me, that's all.

Anyway, this is the first time I've been to a computer since I've been in here, so don't take it personally. And with only a few days worth of newspapers, I have to piece together the last few months from slivers that I find in the cracks.

If I am still under the employ of America-Thrust and/or its corporate parent(s) or subsidiaries -- and even after many lengthy stays at the world's premier Shock Therapy Institute, I am still the largest jewell in the Crown of Thrust, and you would be insane to let me go elsewhere, such as one of your many competitors who are about to start dumping money at my feet -- then I have a few story ideas.

Your Pirates, Chavez. What is going on in Pittsburgh? Probably too early to say for sure, but by this point of the season, it's usually too late.

We're just now getting to the part of the season where records and stats are not just flukes anymore. The Bucs could be a for-real, almost-average baseball team this year. No shit.

If this team so much as finishes within 3 wins of a .500 record, it would be the greatest sports story of the century. Possibly second behind Hines Ward's Dance-a-Thon victory.

A winning record? That would top even a Brett Favre Sex Tape Scandal.

I have to find out if the '011 Pirates are for real, Chavez. Do they have what it takes to stay somewhere near .500? I'd be perfectly willing to put off the inevitable Pirate's Paradise bender you have planned for the both of us, so long as you cut me a check to take a short diversion up to Toronto for a few days.

What do you say? Like old times?

I could even work in a Joey Bats angle to the whole story, if you think that will increase page-views or link-clicks, or whatever it is that people in your business are always so worried about...

Alas, there are a lot of reasons to think that the Bucs are only cock-teasing us once again:

** The pitching can't possibly stay this good. To go from World's Worst Pitching Staff last year to something approaching very good this year is a tough enough task. What's worrisome is that every pitcher making a contribution is pitching at damn near their top potential, which is to say they've hit their ceiling. There's only one way to go from there, my friends... Regression to the mean.

** The offense can absolutely be this bad. This team hasn't been able to score runs on any sort of consistent basis since the Bay-McClouth-Nady glory days, and this year is no different.

** History. Never bet on a streak to end, as all Serious Gamblers know... Don't tell Dr. Forrester I wrote that.

** It's simply not a good enough team. A decade-plus of sheer ineptitude has left this team at such an organizational deficit that there are still massive holes to fill at every level, and those holes haven't shown themselves in a drastic way on the Major League team this year.

But are there reasons to believe, Chavez? Can the Pirates string suckers like me and you along for a few more months? The best I can see, this is what we have:

** Injuries have decimated the team in the first half. For a team that should have been subject to relegation many times over, going five- or six-deep into your catching rotation is never a good thing. Nor is losing a potentially dominant reliever in Even Meek, the starting third-baseman Pedro Alvarez, the back-up third-baseman and next-best option at first, Steve Pierce, and now Tabata, till who knows when... The point is, most of these guys are coming back, so there has to be some sort of improvement, right?

** Maybe the pitching staff is kind-of for real. There was a lot of potential on this pitching staff. Could it be that some of them are reaching that potential?

** Because of the goddamn un-balanced schedule, all of their games are against weak NL Central teams. To get to play the Cubs and Astros over and over and over again is a dream come true. The Pirates may finally have a chance to hand out some of the medicine they've been swallowing for all these years.

** There's magic around this team. If it happens, that will be the story anyhow, so why not just start there, eh?

The other ideas involved something about Jaromir Jagr's return to the Penguins. Sounds like it's going to happen. Methinks Jagr has designs on a statue outside the new Civic Arena.

I also have 53,215 pages of material on the last year of LeBron James news. Let me know if you have any use for it, though I doubt that I've written anything that hasn't already been said.

Jesus H, this is a long e'mail. Get back to me about all this. I'm going to be on the road, so you might as well wire me the money to get up to Toronto. Can you help out with a last-minute passport, perhaps?

Strange tides in strange times,

Robb Witmer Full never did make it to Toronto.