Young stars ready to breakout, tenured vets with lots of experience and new additions highlight this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates squad. As spring training has hit its halfway point, the proof is in the pudding, fans are cautiously optimistic about this year’s team.
A Saturday afternoon game in Bradenton was my first in-person look at the revamped 2023 Pirates. Just walking around LECOM Park, there is a different aura seemingly than in the past. The Pirates have a glimpse of hope after two consecutive 100-loss seasons.
One could say the vibes are at an all-time high.
The Pirates were unusually aggressive this offseason, signing and trading for some great pieces while retaining young talent. Rich Hill, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Santana were brought in on one-year deals. These proven veterans provide the Bucs with some fresh perspective. On the trade block, the team acquired guys such as Ji-Man Choi and Connor Joe.
Losses for the Pirates were minimal, as Diego Castillo was traded to the Diamondbacks, and Hoy Park was traded to the Red Sox.
No doubt fans are excited to see how the season plays out.
Before Sunday’s game, I made my way over to the bullpen where fans were eagerly waiting to see their favorite player before the game, and have a chance to snag a ball. Amongst the people there, I asked a few of them how they were feeling about the Pirates’ season.
“No matter what the record is, no matter what the talent is, no matter what the payroll is, we’ll play this game on the field,” Pirates fan Andrew Leach said. “Win a few games here and there, and next thing you know, you’ve got momentum.”
Momentum is one of the big things the Pirates need this season as they haven’t made the playoffs in nearly eight years. This absence from the postseason has fans comparing this year’s team to another professional sports franchise.
“If we get going, we could end up like the Sacramento Kings this season,” Walter Hargrove said. “Surprise everyone with our new talent and young guys.”
The Sacramento Kings are having a breakthrough season, posed to finish with a record over .500 for the first time since the ‘05-’06 season. That was also the last time they made the playoffs. With only a few games left this season, the Kings are likely going to make it to the postseason and end the 17-year drought.
There is nothing better than a feel-good story to model a season after. The 2023 Pirates will need some much-needed confidence in themselves if they want to end their 8-year playoff drought. They will need to channel the energy of the 2019 Wahington Nationals to break the streak.
Amidst the high hopes and inspiration from previous success stories, some fans are being realistic about their expectations.
“They’ve been bad the last few seasons. I don’t know how much more Pittsburgh fans can take of this,” Pirates fan Amelia Baker said. “I’m glad they had a big off-season, but we just need more wins.”
More wins than losses would be ideal for this year’s Pirates team and there is no doubt fans are looking forward to the journey ahead. While winning the world series is the ultimate goal for this team, just making the playoffs would be an improvement from the last 7 years.
162 games to go this season, and a lot of optimism from Pirates fans.