It's been almost two weeks since the Cardinals eliminated the Pirates from the National League playoffs, and the reason that I've had so much trouble getting this offseason primer together is that it's still hard to think of the Pirates outside of the context of the 2013 season. I really didn't think the Dodgers looked all that impressive in the NLCS against the Cardinals, and so knowing that the Pirates had the NLDS winning run at home plate in the form of Andrew McCutchen in Game 4, well, it's frustrating.
I'm not saying that it's frustrating that McCutchen didn't hit a home run there or that I blame him for the series loss or anything like that — just that it's awfully hard to lose to a rival early on in the playoffs only to see them make a deep run. In 1999, I played on the Hermitage 13-14 year old All-Star team (you probably know this, but the All-Star teams are the traveling teams that each league affiliated with the larger Little League governing body puts together at the end of each season to play in the tournaments that go from district to section to state to region to the World Series that you watch on ESPN every year, except that there are more age brackets than the 11 and 12 year olds that you see on TV) in what we knew was likely to be the final hurrah for a group of players that had been more or less unchanged for every post-seaosn tournament since we were ten years old. We finished in third place when we were 10 and third place when we were 12 and third place when we were 13, and we were determined to finally win the district and make a run at something when we were 14. In the winner's bracket final, we CRUSHED our rivals from Grove City (who won the district the previous two years) by some ridiculous score in their own ballpark with their ace on the mound. I think we might have even run-ruled them. They bounced right back and beat Sharpsville in the loser's bracket finals, setting up a rematch at our own complex. All we had to do was win one of two games at home to win the district and move on. They beat us twice, by relatively close scores. They went on to win the section, then win the State Championship before losing to New Jersey or Maine or someone in the North East regional play.
As much as losing those two games was tough, the moment the knife really turned was when they wrote a big article about the Grove City kids in The Sharon Herald and their manager said something to the effect of, "As good as the teams we played in the sectionals and state tournament were, I really believe that the second best team in the state was the Hermitage team that took us to the limit in the districts." I don't know if that was true, but geez, reading that felt like a punch to the gut. We had them on the rails and couldn't finish them off, and two weeks later the stories in the newspaper were about them instead of us.
And anyway the long and short of it is that every time I sit down and start to type "Should the Pirates keep AJ Burnett …" I think about Game 1 and Game 4 and Game 5 and I see the Cardinals in the World Series and realize that that could be the Pirates in a real and tangible way that hasn't been true in the past and I put the primer on the backburner again. And anyway, I'm working on the primer. It might be up tomorrow, but if not, then almost certainly by Friday morning. It's time to put 2013 behind us and find the way forward.