That bell you here ringing off in the distance? Faintly, but just loud enough that you know you should heed its call?
That’s not just Josh Bell.
It’s the school bell.
Class is in. Or, at least it should be for the Pirates.
Everyone had moments in their youth when they realized it was time to throw their hands up in the air and ask for help. Whether it be from the teacher/professor, a fellow student, or your parents, the time comes for everyone. The time is here and now for Neal Huntington to ask for help. And he needs to ask not a mentor or a contemporary or a role model. He needs to ask the kids.
Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Josh Bell are those kids. Even Adam Frazier and Chad Kuhl. Those kids are better. Better than they were just a few months ago, a year or so ago, and certainly and most importantly, better than guys like Jonathon Neise, Jeff Locke, and John Jaso. Or Jung Ho Kang. Or even Josh Harrison.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will spend the next two weeks in an odd limbo of sorts, where they’re chasing down a Wild Card spot, possibly a Division – although as of Friday night they’re now 8 ½ games back of the Chicago Cubs, so that seems less likely than it had at any point in the past three weeks – and also not entirely confident that at least one of those is entirely achievable. When healthy and playing to their expectations, they are a Wild Card team, no doubt. When they do that AND the Cubs scuffle, they can put a scare into the North Side of the Windy City. However, when they’re not healthy (which they aren’t totally right now), and when they’re not playing up to expectations, they are a team looking for the kind of catalyst they got last Saturday night: A young player making a debut, looking to make an impression – and doing so, and bringing an energy to a club that looks entirely spent, both physically and emotionally, from three straight years of postseason disappointment.
Make all you want out of what Neal Huntington has done with a limited budget to rebuild the organization over the past 9 years. It’s been truly remarkable. Despite not winning a championship – or two – I put him on par with Kevin Colbert (two Lombardi Trophies to his credit in 16 seasons) and Jim Rutherford (a dramatic midseason turnaround to a Stanley Cup run is his most recent accomplishment). This is the time to dispatch with the past, though, and embrace the future. Forget that Pittsburgh and it’s baseball fans used to be content with winning baseball, and then postseason appearances. Embrace the pressure and anticipations of those same fans that a championship is what counts, not just competing for one. What’s the worst that can happen? You end up 15 games out and out of a Wild Card spot? Congratulations, you were there just seven weeks ago. And guess what, you survived? And do you know who helped lift you out of that slump? Your best players. Your kids.
Play the best players.
Play the kids.