Lately, the Pirates have become an afterthought for the people who follow the team in the Steel City, just waiting for the Steelers and Penguins to start again.
Ever since the excitement of the Pirates bringing home a World Series title in 1960, after many years of abysmal seasons in the 50’s, Pittsburgh was prominently a baseball city, creating the classic “Beat ’em Bucs” expression that reigned over the area through the 1970’s, resulting in two more championship teams. This great enthusiasm would continue until the 1990’s, but came to a stop as the almost-forgotten Pirates have faced an unfortunate stretch consisting of 18, going on 19, losing seasons.
Most fans would never believe that this 2011 Pirates team would be able to capture the imagination of the city of Pittsburgh just as the team in 1960 had done.
The 2011 Pirates first move on the right track came when they announced the hitting coach of the Texas Rangers, Clint Hurdle, would assume the managerial role. This was no easy task for Hurdle; however he earned the respect of the fans when he openly accepted this challenge.
Still, little was expected of the Pirates in 2011, but immediately there was a dramatic change in the atmosphere. Hurdle continued to preach one statement to the players and to the fans: “We can win.”
This new Pirates manager provided one small change to the organization, that would go on to have the biggest impact on the franchise in years: Hurdle made his players believe in his system and gave the entire Pittsburgh Pirates persona a new culture.
The season started on April 1st, and a solid 6–3 win over the Cubs in Chicago proved the Pirates were a better ball club. Hurdle’s new approach was clear, for the Pirates were in every ball game they played.
Then came the month of June, when the Pirates reached a record of 30–30, the first time at .500 or better at that point in the season in ten years. They received national recognition when they captured a series win over the Boston Red Sox. More importantly, during that three game set the Pirates set the all-time PNC Park attendance record for a single game and over the course of a single series.
Later in July, the Pirates reached a season-high seven-games-over-.500, and even spent time atop the NL Central division.
The Pirates were the story of Major League Baseball over the months of June and July, causing a buzz in the city of Pittsburgh that most young fans had never experienced. The Pirates were “buyers” rather than “sellers” at the trade deadline.
However, the success of the Pirates did not last past the night of Tuesday, July 26th in Atlanta. On that night, the Pirates lost in nineteen innings, and later that week they dropped ten games in a row.
However, this season will not and should not be based on the Pirates’ late-season struggles. Rather, this will be about the first step the Pirates made in their continuing plan to rebuild the organization, and reconnect the city of Pittsburgh to its ball club. It was clear that Clint Hurdle was able to do so, for baseball was the story of Pittsburgh during the months of June and July. This can be in the echoes of “Let’s Go Bucs” throughout PNC Park that continue to this day.