Nobody Asked Me, But…

  • I’ve made up my mind on the Pirates this year. Sort of.

Andrew McCutchen’s homecoming game, lo and behold, is on my fiancee’s and my proper birthday this year, and she and I agreed that would be a nice fun birthday thing for us to do together. Furthermore, they’re doing one of those Paint Monkey things before the game, which seemed like good, clean couples fun. Also, on Saturday, August 4th, they’re giving away an Andy Van Slyke bobblehead, and he was my favorite Pirate as a kid.

Those are two games this season that I will unabashedly attend, and, in the case of the McCutchen/Paint Monkey game, don’t mind giving the Pirates my money for as a one-off, as opposed to going through one of the third-party sites like I do commonly. The rest, I could take or leave until the organization shows more transparency and a more tangible commitment to winning.

I was one of the people willing to give upper management a chance after Clint Hurdle came and the culture changed, but between their dormant winters (sorry, one 11th-hour Corey Dickerson signing does not an exhaustive off-season make), their inability to maximize the value of the assets they’ve sold (i.e.: Cutch, Cole) and their senseless, passive-aggressive buck-passing to non-attendees, they’ve got a long road back to regain my respect.

For the record, I did watch some baseball on Easter Sunday and didn’t mind it all that much. I’m glad the Pirates swept Detroit, and I hope they continue winning and, ultimately, prove the lot of us wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with continuing to root strictly for the team on the field, because there are still 25 guys in that clubhouse killing themselves in good faith for the City of Pittsburgh, and they had nothing to do with the aforementioned buffoonery. And quite frankly, if you go back and listen to some of their comments prior to spring ball, clearly there are at least one or two who would express solidarity with us if they could.

So if you are one of the Pittsburghers who vowed a “Bucco boycott” this year, if not longer, at one time or another, and you still plan to go through with it, please know that you, like the players, have my unapologetic support. Even in the darkest days of the Dark Ages, PNC Park was the place to be in Pittsburgh on Opening Day, but it’s pretty obvious that fans have had enough of getting their stomachs punched and their intelligence insulted, and the fact the Pirates have been anticipating so many empty seats today is as encouraging to me as it is telling.

  • I want to “3elieve.” And a part of me still does. But my optimism is even more guarded than it was a year ago at this time, when we all knew they had to win sans Letang. History and common sense tell me, come Game 1 of Round One, to take the chances of a healthy, Mike Sullivan-coached Penguin team over those of the field seven days of the week out of seven. My eyes tell me I’m seeing the classic Bylsma-era trend of bad late-season habits exploitable in a seven-game series that get masked by short-term results.

Scoff if you want, but look at the teams they’ve lost to down the stretch, at times when the games still “meant something.” No, seriously. Look at them. Aside from that, the defense has been too feast-or-famine and wasn’t improved enough at the trade deadline after losing Ian Cole’s character and shot-blocking skills (albeit for the best available impact player on the market), the penalty kill is beneath itself, the goaltending has been consistently inconsistent and I’m getting a little tired of watching their point men run the power play with my hands half-covering my eyes. Right now, there’s just too much pressure on the Penguins to out-talent opponents, and they learned two coaching regimes ago that playoff hockey doesn’t work that way.

Again, I could easily be proven full of you-know-what starting a couple weeks from now. It could be as simple as, they’re tired and saving whatever gas is still in the tank for the playoffs. Two long seasons will do that to anybody, as will 18 back-to-backs, or whatever the number is–which is as absurd today as it was when the League dreamed it up last summer. And I can forgive Murray not looking like himself, knowing the trials and tribulations of concussion recovery, and taking into account the human tragedy he’s had to overcome this year–let’s not forget that, either. As for Letang, however, the honeymoon is over for me, neck injury or not. Sit him for these last couple games, now that the division is out of reach, and let him get more rested, get his head out of his rectum or both.

I’ve said time and again, when you have 87 and 71, you always have a chance, and few organizations in professional sports can flip a switch at the exact right time like this one. I just have a feeling the switch is going to be a little harder to flip this year.

  • Oh, and, speaking of my fiancee, I wasn’t going to until she gently talked me into it, but I ended up going to the Riverhounds home opener Saturday. Result aside, I wasn’t disappointed. One point is better than none, but, minimally, they should’ve gotten a 1- or 2-0 result. Saying that, I kept my eye on Bob Lilley, since I was sitting close enough to the Hounds bench to reasonably do so, and I liked what I saw a lot. He’s very intense, he’s an ABC guy (always be coaching) and when the Riverhounds, clear as day, should have been given a penalty roughly midway through the first half, he was all over the refs like a cheap suit, well past the halftime whistle.

I really think Lilley has a chance to do for the Riverhounds what Michel Therrien did for the Penguins at the dawn of the Crosby-Malkin era: be the human Molotov cocktail through the glass window of the establishment, and, in doing so, change the organizational culture for the better. He’s a straight shooter, like Therrien was, as evidenced by his postgame remarks, and he strikes me as the kind of guy who can inject some alpha-male, but also some structure and discipline, into the on-field product. The Penguins’ Renaissance started at the top. If the Riverhounds want to change, beyond merely their new, more avant garde branding, that has to start at the top, too.

I don’t care that the Riverhounds lucked their way into this guy, relying on the incredible misfortune of the now-defunct Rochester organization to find a licensed Division II-level coach, because the bottom line is, they had the wherewithal to go get the best free agent coach available when the getting was good. Furthermore, they weren’t shy about cleaning house, Kerr, Parkes and one or two others(?) notwithstanding, after a couple non-playoff years.

(Wasn’t I just saying something about organizations that show a commitment to winning?)

Perhaps it was to be expected that they still looked like a work in progress on Saturday. But I forgive that, because my instincts tell me “Lilleyball” will catch on eventually, for as long as the buy-in from his hand-picked players is there. They need time to find their form and develop chemistry, which doesn’t happen after two matches. They also need forwards who can finish, but I digress.

In the meantime, as an RMU employee, I can’t wait until Neco vs. Speedy Sept. 15.

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