Pirates Progress Report No. 1: The Ballpark pass is a win, even if the pitching staff is not
Checking in with the local nine....
We are only 10 games into the season for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates and things are already reaching peak frustration.
The good news: The team has actually won six of those first 10 games and is off to a better start than I could have possibly imagined, including a sweep of the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park and then taking two out of three from a decent Chicago White Sox team.
The bad news: The pitching staff already looks like it is going to be a complete dumpster fire and Oneil Cruz, one of the biggest reasons for excitement with this team, is going to miss four months because he fractured his ankle on a bad slide at home plate. The injury to Cruz is just bad luck that you can not really blame on anybody other than a bad slide. But the pitching staff? That was a choice by the front office.
In other words, our pet’s heads are already falling off.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about my own personal enjoyment for a minute and discuss the BallPark Pass because this is one of the smartest things baseball has done in a while.
I am not sure the exact number of teams that do this or if it is the same with all of them, but the way it works in Pittsburgh is you pay $30 for the month and you get a standing room only ticket to every home game during that month. If you want to go to only one game? You pay $30. If you want to go to five games? Still only $30. If you want to go to ALL of the games, it is still only $30. With the way PNC Park is set up there are no shortage of places to hang out with places to actually sit and still get a good view of the game.
I gave it a try for April, along with my brother Matt and my cousin Steve, to see how many times I would use it, and based on my first experience on Tuesday night I will be using it a lot. I am already planning on going to Wednesday’s game.
Technically you can stand pretty much anywhere you want. On the left field rotunda. Along the back railing of the concourse throughout the infield. Or at any of the bar areas located in the outfield (there are three main ones). The center field area is probably going to be my preferred destination because they have an actual bar with stools with a great view of the game, as well as several tables with chairs that also give you an amazing view. If you can get there early enough, there is also a railing along the wall with stools that will basically give you a front row, unobstructed seat.
If you choose that area, an added bonus is that the Miller Lite Landing bar has the radio broadcast playing loud enough that you not only get the experience of watching a game in person, in a cool setting, while also having the play-by-play.
A normal standing room only ticket to a game probably costs about $15 on a normal night. So if you go to two games, it has already paid for itself and you have gotten your money’s worth. If you go to three or more you are coming out ahead. Sure, you still have to pay for parking and whatever drinks or food you want, but you can easily limit the latter (you do not HAVE to buy things in the stadium) and the former is manageable if you know where to look or have access to the T.
Will I get tired of it as the season goes on and the Pirates start to inevitably lose more games? Probably! But the beauty of it is you don’t need to renew it next month, or any other month.
As my brother pointed out, you could essentially get yourself a season ticket for $180 and go to 80 games if you renewed it every month. If you live or work in the area, you could stop in for a few innings when you have some time. Is there a giveaway you want but don’t have time to stay for the whole game? Pop in and get your free T-shirt and then bail. The options are limitless.
Every gameday you will get a text message asking if you are planning on attending that day’s game, and you simply reply YES and your ticket shows up in your Ballpark app.
Easy as can be.
As for the game itself, Monday’s game — an 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros — seemed like a bucket of cold water thrown all over a fast start. It feels like this entire series might be exactly that because the difference in talent between these two teams is MASSIVE.
Almost every hitter in the Astros lineup is a threat, and they hit everything hard. They had 13 hits, they scored eight runs, and given that they left more than 10 guys on base it could have easily been significantly worse.
Roansy Contreras is one of the few starting pitchers currently on the team that is even a little bit intriguing, and he simply had a terrible start, unable to locate his pitches and when he did the Astros squared everything up and crushed it.
The offense without Cruz is just …. not imposing. At all. After getting just two hits in a 1-0 win on Sunday, the Pirates managed just three on Monday. You are not going to win many games with five hits every two games.
The absolute BEST part of the game though came in the bottom of the ninth inning when some hipster dude in a throwback 1971 Pirates jersey ran up to the railing and screamed at Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker, “HEY KYLE! BANG BANG BANG OFF-SPEED PITCH YOU FUCKING CHEATER!!” then ran away. It was an obvious reference to the Astros trash-can cheating scandal from a few years ago.
Of all of the thing that were yelled at players from both teams on Monday, both positive and negative, THAT was the only one that resulted in any sort of a reaction from the player. Tucker immediately swung his head around looking to see who made the comment.
The truly funny thing about it is that Tucker did not even play on that Astros team! Guy is just out there minding his own business and still getting shit for it.
Let’s get into some more random thoughts from the first 10 games.
1. The thing that is so crushing about the Cruz injury is that he really did seem to be putting it together. The most encouraging development of them all through his first nine games is that he seemed to be developing a far better understanding of the strike zone, which is the ultimate key to his success. He is drawing more walks, striking out less, and if you go back over his last 50 games dating back to last year he was playing at legitimate star-level.
His OPS has been over .850 during that time, his average has been pushing .280, his on-base percentage is in the .350 range, and he is clubbing home runs at better than a 30-home run pace per 162 games. He was on track. Then his foot fell off. The Pirates say he will return to action around August, so by that point, and after an expected rehab assignment, he probably will not play in Pittsburgh again until mid-late August or September. At that point it might just make some sense to wait until next year.
It sucks not only because it takes away one of the most exciting things about this team, but it also takes away a significant year of development from a player that needs it. The whole thing sucks.
2. Speaking of sucking. Let’s talk about this pitching staff.
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