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Will The Pirates' Strong Season Last?


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The heat is oppressive across the country, and for Pittsburgh Pirate fans, most summers are oppressive - but not this one. This week, the Pirates moved into first place of the National League Central Division. They haven't been in first place this late in the season in 14 years. And Pittsburgh, finally, is buzzing about the Bucs.

Ms. TERRY MCFERRIN: Terry McFerrin(ph). I've been a lifelong Pirates fan. This is just the most exciting thing going for Pittsburgh right now. They're just doing so well. I listen to them every day and I talk to my daughter about them every day. Everyone in my family's really excited.

Mr. ALEX SANZIONE: Alex Sanzione(ph), from Pittsburgh. Here for a long time -20-plus years now. I'm in my mid-20s. And so I remember the last time the Pirates winning in '92 when I was six and seven years old. They have been just so irrelevant and basically a quad-A minor league baseball team, and so it's nice to finally have a team that's gained respectability amongst their peers in the major league and amongst the fans here in America for them to be considered much a contender. It's been awesome.

SIEGEL: But will this enthusiasm last? Well, joining me to talk about this is Jerry Micco. He's a sports editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JERRY MICCO (Sports Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette): Thank you, Robert. It's a pleasure to be on.

SIEGEL: And before we get to the good news about this year and how long the Pirates can keep it up, tell us about how bad the team has been for the past several years.

Mr. MICCO: Well, Robert, it's been 14 years since they've - I'm sorry, 18 years since they've had a winning season in Pittsburgh. So, Pittsburgh fans here have gotten used to bad baseball over time, although they've never liked it. And a lot of that's come out in certain ways: they haven't supported the team as well as they maybe would have had they won, certainly.

And the ownership has taken it on the chin, rightfully so, I think, for not spending a lot of money. But they have a plan now and it looks like it's starting to come to fruition and we'll see how far this goes. But certainly the people in Pittsburgh this summer have supported this ball club.

SIEGEL: What's so different about the team? What happened to turn the Pirates into a winning ball club this season?

Mr. MICCO: They hired Clint Hurdle in the off-season. As you might remember, Hurdle, a few years ago took the Colorado Rockies to the World Series, lost to the Red Sox. But he's infused such an enthusiasm into the team. You have that, plus I think you have some players who are maturing into better players. Neil Walker is in a second year, is throwing very well; Andrew McCutchen is kind of reaching the potential they thought he would.

And I think you've got enough good pitching. And they've managed in a division that's fairly weak to do very well and the people in Pittsburgh have just loved every minute of it. So, a lot of factors conspired, I think, to bring these guys where they are right now.

SIEGEL: Jerry, in this drought era, what I'll politely refer to as the post-Clemente, post-Stargell era of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the football team, the Steelers, have been great in many seasons, the hockey team, the Penguins, have been great in many years. Are the Pirates that other team in town that people don't really think about that much or have they remained large in the hearts of the people of Pittsburgh?

Mr. MICCO: I think in the hearts of the people of Pittsburgh they've remained large but they're a very discouraged bunch - 18 years will do that to you. The people in Pittsburgh, though, because of the history of the Pirates and the rich history of baseball here still supported them. Now, not like they would've had they won, but nonetheless, they still supported them. And I think it's more of a reward for those fans that the team that's now put together is a good team and they're showing up to show their, you know, appreciation for that.

SIEGEL: Is this team good enough to end up the season in first place, to be in the postseason, maybe to make it to the World Series?

Mr. MICCO: I think it's going to be a stretch for them to get into the postseason. Their next 40 games - 32 of them are against teams with .500 record or better. I think they have a real shot to break the 18-year losing streak and win 82 or 83 or even 85 games; I don't know if they can do that or not. I don't know if they're quite ready yet to get that far but I think they can contend all the way through.

SIEGEL: Well, Jerry, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. MICCO: Sure, Robert. My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Jerry Micco, who is sports editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.