I ran cross country for four years in high school. I was OK, not great, for a couple of reasons. One, I was smallish back then and not very strong. Two, hay fever clobbered me annually in Michigan, from August until the first frost in late September or early October. Ragweed pollen choked off my breathing passages, and there were days when it felt like I could get no oxygen into my lungs.
Sort of, I imagine, how the Pittsburgh Pirates are feeling these days.
For four months, the Buccos were one of the best stories in the game. Even Commissioner Bud Selig said that Pittsburgh's was the first score he checks every night. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Bucs were buyers at the July trade deadline.
Then, wheeze, wheeze. ...
Clint Hurdle's club fell into a 10-game losing streak that has all but asphyxiated Cinderella. At 56-60, the Pirates were 10 games behind Milwaukee. Steelers season again is on deck in Pittsburgh.
Well, there are a lot of explanations, but those mostly are just accumulations of pieces of answers from over there and parts of answers from over here. Their pitching suddenly disappeared on them. Their bats went silent. The lowly Cubs and Padres swept them at home, socking the Pirates with their first winless homestand of six-or-more games in their 125-year history.
The Pirates were outscored by 45 runs during the 10-game streak.
Basically, the Pirates confirmed what many believed from the start: They're not quite ready to win yet.
Young legs and fresh arms are as important as ever in the game -- and, with the majority of steroids and greenies evidently expunged thanks to tighter testing, more important these days than at any time since the mid-1980s.
But young talent alone is not enough. Because among the many things the youngsters must develop is stamina -- both physical and mental -- for a 162-game grind.
The story of this year's Pirates is shaping up remarkably similar to that of last year's Padres, who also were the best story in the game until ... yes, until a 10-game losing streak knocked the wind out of them. Only difference was, the Padres skid started a couple of weeks later, on Aug. 26. Pittsburgh's started a month earlier, on July 29.
One common thread is poor Ryan Ludwick. The Padres acquired him last July 31 because they needed more production in the middle of their order. Pittsburgh dealt for him this July 31 for the same reason.
Now Ludwick is something of an unwilling expert on would-be contenders falling into 10-game losing skids and seeing their seasons crumble.
Though the losing streak wrecked their season, last year's Padres did gain a second wind, played in meaningful games all the way to the last day of their season and wound up with 90 wins.
These Pirates are only on pace for 77 wins, and the interesting thing now will be to see how they respond the rest of the way. This is an important stretch. General manager Neal Huntington has built a good nucleus of young players -- Andrew McCutchen, Neal Walker, Jose Tabata (who has been injured), Pedro Alvarez (who is having a miserable season). Pittsburgh is far closer to winning than it has been in a long time.
Still, what they need is some room to breathe, some room to grow. Some air.
That, or some allergy pills.
By my senior year, by the way, we won the league title. I contributed in a few small ways, scoring points here and there, but others did the heavy lifting. Still, it was a great ride and I made some lifelong friends while running over the trails and through the woods.
I still think about those days at this time of year, when school beckons and the baseball season shifts toward its final sprint. Sometimes the trails go uphill. Sometimes they disappear into the woods. The trick is in the persevering.
It would be a shame if things completely got away from the Pirates in 2011. This is an organization that has endured 18 consecutive losing seasons, a record for North American professional sports.
It won't be nearly the same as watching them fight for a spot in October, but if the Pirates can't climb back into the race, watching them battle for a .500 finish will still be pretty good drama.
Likes: Dan Uggla extending his hitting streak to 31 games. ... Sign-stealing controversies. There has been off-the-record chatter about those kind of capers in Toronto for years. It's amusing and entertaining. And my response is, if you think the Blue Jays are stealing your signs, then change your signs. ... The law in the great state of Michigan prohibiting public schools from starting before Labor Day. That's the way it should be everywhere. Summer doesn't end until Labor Day Weekend, does it? ... Here's to Jerry Garcia, who died 16 years ago Aug. 9.
Dislikes: The dancing woman in Cleveland behind the plate in that crazy Indians-Tigers game that ended at 2 a.m. the other night. Can't you just sit still and watch a ballgame? As if she wasn't distracting enough (I was home watching on television), she trended on Twitter. Now I can just see dozens of other wackos following suit looking for their own publicity. Please, no.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Well the first days are the hardest days
"Don't you worry any more
"'Cause when life looks like easy street
"There is danger at your door
"Think this through with me
"Let me know your mind.
"Oh, oh, what I want to know is, are you kind?"
-- Grateful Dead, Uncle John's Band
Pirates in need of either air or allergy shots
Posted on: August 10, 2011 8:21 pm