Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Glory of the Altoona Curve

8-29-10: The Altoona Curve vs. the Richmond Flying Squirrels

In order to catch a reassuring glimpse of the Pittsburgh Pirates' future, I had to drive around 90 miles east to the city of Altoona past strangely-named towns such as Nanty Glo and Gallitzin, as well as scenic mountains and valleys, one of which afforded a beautiful view of three nuclear power plant cooling towers.

Blair County Ballpark is absolutely worth the trek. I have now been to two Altoona Curve games here, and thinking about the place stirs a kind of childlike excitement in me. PNC Park is easily the architectural jewel of Pittsburgh, but Blair County Ballpark and the roller coaster that rises above the right field wall gives it a run for its money. And their cheeseburgers are a no-contest winner.

When I was a kid, my mom liked to place decorative gift-wrapped boxes in front of our house for decoration at Christmastime. People actually started stealing them, however, and my mother took to filling the boxes with used cat litter as a deterrent. Unfortunately, this is an apt metaphor for the situation that PNC Park has been stuck with for some time now. Blair County Ballpark, however, benefits from being the home of The Altoona Curve, the Pirates' AA affiliate. While the Pirates have spent 2010 solidifying our status as the worst team in major league baseball, the Curve has posted a win-loss record of 79-55 to solidify its first-place standing within its league.

The thrill of a winning atmosphere cannot be put into words. After all these years of losing in such epic fashion, it was like waking from a nightmare. And that may be hyperbolic, but not very.

Saturday's game saw the Curve winning in extra innings after a dominant pitching performance by Daniel Moskos, recently demoted from AAA. Catcher Hector Gimenez was walked to start the inning, and Miles Durham hit a two-out walk-off RBI double.

These kinds of games just don't occur in PNC Park with any kind of regularity. It is my feeling that a certain level of confidence is needed to be able to get a clutch hit such as Miles Durham's, and not to state the extremely obvious here, but the good vibes of knowing your team is performing at peak level help a batter see the ball more effectively despite having two outs at the bottom of the tenth.

In the end, failure fuels failure and success fuels success. It takes a lot of variables working in tandem to achieve a sustained flow of win, but once it happens, new possibilities present themselves. If this had been the Pirates, I would have been praying for a solo home run and not expecting to see one. However, at this game, I knew that Gimenez was going to get driven in, and everyone else in attendance knew it as well, fans and players alike. In the ensuing years, some of these guys will make it to PNC Park.

When it happens, it will be as strange as it is beautiful.

Jeff Locke was the starting pitcher. He gave up one run over six innings, and currently has an ERA of 2.73.
One of the many mascots featured in an Altoona Curve game. This guy's name was Mackerel Jordan.
Here, Mackerel eats a child.
And spits out his boxer shorts.
The Curve dugout. Witness the happy.
First baseman Matt Hague ties the game in the bottom of the sixth.
Al Tuna reacts to the game-tying RBI.
Relief pitcher Michael Dubee returns to the dugout. He, too, had a solid appearance, going 3 innings and allowing just one earned run.

Catcher Hector Gimenez. At 28 years of age, he is a bit long in the tooth. However, assuming Doumit is gone next season and Eric Kratz starts as the Pirates' backup catcher, Gimenez is almost certainly going to make his debut at AAA. If he can maintain anything close to his .301 average in Indianapolis, I expect that he might surprise quite a few people in the organization.
Third baseman Jordy Mercer reaches first on one of two hits he earned in this game.
Hector Gimenez at bat.
Hector Gimenez on base.
Matt Hague walking to the dugout.
Miles Durham on deck.
Miles Durham reacts to a strikeout.
Hector Gimenez.
Matt Hague.
Shortstop Chase D'Arnaud.
Center Fielder Anthony Norman (left) and Left Fielder Jim Negrych
Al Tuna performs another celebratory dance.
Anthony Norman at bat.
Anthony Norman gets a walk.
Chase D'Arnaud on deck.
Chase D'Arnaud follows a pop-up.
D'Arnaud walks.

Jordy Mercer on deck.
Josh Harrison gets a hit.
Anthony Norman ties the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Chase D'Arnaud gets called out at home plate.

Jordy Mercer gets a hit.
D'Arnaud and Mercer.
Daniel Moskos pitching.

Matt Hague on deck.
Matt Hague demonstrates his crazy eyes.
Jim Negrych strikes out.
Gimenez crosses home plate off of Durham's double.
Gimenez is not afraid to celebrate.
Miles Durham mid-celebratory takedown.

Godspeed on your journey to the majors. I could get used to these reprieves from shame.