Several years ago, I invented the word Nascempecious (pronounced Nah-Sem-Pee-Shuss). Nascempecious describes anything that goes very badly, exactly as you expected it would. Right now, the Pirates' season is very nascempecious.
Fortunately for my sanity, however, Altoona, Pennsylvania is not too far away. When the Pirates' numerous shortcomings gets a little too much to bear, I can head east to a ballpark in the mountains where it's always that last hour before sundown when everything is slightly golden. There is a roller coaster over the right field wall, parking is only $3, the cheese burgers make you want to sing songs, and there is this extra component to the atmosphere that you suddenly realize has been missing from most of those Pirates games. That's right: there is genuine hope in the air.
Last year, the Altoona Curve won the Eastern League Championship for the first time in their history as a result of terrific pitching from starting pitchers like Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, and Michael Dubee, as well as closer Daniel Moskos. At this eaerly stage in their season, it would appear that the Curve is poised to make another run at the championship, with Dubee, Hughes, Locke and Morris being joined by Brian Leech, Noah Krul, Mike Colla, and Aaron Thompson.
In addition, several big bats are making their AA debut this year: catcher Tony Sanchez, outfielders Quincy Latimore and Starling Marte, and infielder Brock Holt. Many feel that the Pirates won't truly be in contention until Sanchez and Marte in particular are playing on the major league team; just having these guys playing baseball in the state of Pennsylvania is a source of considerable excitement.
Last night, Aaron Thompson pitched the Curve home opener against the Richmond Flying Squirrels in spectacular fashion, giving up only two hits and one walk through six innings. Thompson threw tons of swing-and-miss pitches, and it was truly a sight to behold. I don't think I've seen the pitcher of the team I'm rooting for have such a spectacular game since James McDonald made his first start for the Pirates last season. The Curve ultimately blanked the Flying Squirrels, winning by a score of 2-0 thanks to a Jordy Mercer solo home run and a Miles Durham double that drove in Tony Sanchez. The Curve accumulated 8 total hits for a decisive victory; it's only the second win I've attended this season, and the resulting happiness and pride in my team was like manna from heaven.
After the game, my dad and I drove back to Pittsburgh as we listened to the Pirates trying to score their first run in like 17 innings while trailing the Brewers 2-0. Ultimately, Brewers relief pitcher Jon Axford threw a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning, which allowed Andrew McCutchen to score. We can now safely say that Axford has become the most productive part of the Pirates offense in those 17+ scoreless innings, a cruelly humorous reality that should ring familiar to any follower of this team. We listened with a sense of cool detachment, however, for we had just seen a win for this organization, and with it, a glimpse of the bright future that lies ahead.
Catcher Tony Sanchez before the game.Backup Catcher Kris Watts.
Steamer, one of the three Curve mascots, interacts with the youth marching band that played the National Anthem at the game's start.
(From left: Brock Holt, Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Tony Sanchez, Miles Durham and Quincy Latimore)
Aaron Thompson pitching.
Bryan Morris manning the pitching gun from the stands.
Tony Sanchez slides home off of a Durham double.
Starling Marte in the on-deck circle.
Tony Sanchez on first following a hit.
In AA, they go just a little further with the non-baseball entertainment, as seen here.
RP Mike Colla.
Marte gets caught in a rundown.
RP Michael Dubee