Pirates Raise Ticket Prices; People Freak Out

For the first time since 2002, the Pittsburgh Pirates are raising ticket prices. Here is the new seating chart for 2012.

My thoughts?

It’s not too bad. A lot of people are complaining, although they may have a point given that the Pirates are 15-30 since the all-star break. There are still of plenty of affordable tickets to be had though. The “Upper Grandstand” make the final seven rows of 22 upper deck sections for just $10. The kids pricing will help families out as well. A family of four can attend a ball game for $32. That has to be among the lowest in all of the MLB.

Their division of pricing is confusing. Take the regular grandstand for example. The view from section 333 row R is horrible compared to behind the plate in section 316 row A. However, both seats will run you $16. My seat in 329 row B ran me $140 for a 20 game plan in 2011. In 2012 it will run me $300. That’s a pretty steep increase.

The Pirates did the right thing by keeping the dent on full season ticket holders as little as possible. Those value plans with all 81 games for as low as $399 will be available to those who renew. Good move there by rewarding their most loyal of fans by keeping their prices ridiculously low.

While I won’t complain about the $40 increase for my 20 game plan in 2012 (I will be relocating), there will still be many who do.

For those who don’t understand, I suggest taking a look at the prices of teams in similar to the Pirates (Cincinnati, Washington, Baltimore to name a few). Theirs are still more expensive than the Pirates.

So before you curse out the team for what they did, think for a second. The same people that don’t like the increases probably are the same ones that willingly shell out $8 for a 16-ounce beer at a game or $5 for a cotton candy as if that makes any more sense. I’m willing to bet the Pirates will still offer discounts (Advantage Card days, PNC check card nights) to keep the prices lower and giving fans more bang for their buck.

I suggest you save your anger for something else, such as if/when the teams signs the next Matt Diaz over the winter or if they were to discontinue Free Shirt Fridays.

Quality Websites Worth Bookmarking

This summer was very different for me. I spent it interning with The Almanac, the weekly newspaper of the South Hills of Pittsburgh. Being that I had to be in the office for 32 hours a week, and not always having 32 hours worth of work to do, it became important that I find some web sites to pass the time waiting for people to call me back on interviews and things of that nature. Tired of the back-and-forth between Twitter and Facebook, I was able to find some gems that you should check out too.

Uni-Watch (www.uni-watch.com)

Headed by Paul Lukas of ESPN.com’s Page 2, this site is billed as “The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics.” Paul and his staff have jersey news for all sports on lockdown and have plenty of entertaining features and interviews as well. The always-informative ticker points out nuances in uniforms from the previous night’s action. If you have an eye for details and love sports, you could kill a lot of time here.

Stadium Journey (www.stadiumjourney.com)

Planning a road trip to a sports venue? Just return from a place and want to share your opinions with others? Look no further. Stadium Journey provides a great resource for those making a trip to a ballpark, stadium or arena. Its staff gives good tips and reviews to make sure your trip will go as smoothly as possible. It also allows fans to post their own reviews and lend advice. If you’re thinking about traveling to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, Stetson Hatters, or any team in-between, make sure you stop here first.

Grantland (www.grantland.com)

I’m sure most of you have heard of this website, but I really didn’t get into checking it regularly until those drab days in the office. Bill Simmons of ESPN (one of the few associated with the network that I can actually stand) and his all-star team of writers share their thoughts on sports in addition to pop-culture happenings (in a section cleverly called “Hollywood Prospectus”). This “super blog” so to speak can be very entertaining and features a ton of talent. Simmons’ weekly mailbag can put a smile on your face even on your worst of days.

Sports Pickle (www.sportspickle.com)

This satirical sports site is very similar to The Onion, providing humorous fake sports stories.

If my readers have any other sites to add, feel free to comment below.

Year of the Bobcat?

With fall, and football, right around the corner, I think that it is best that this blog begins living up to the second half of its title.

Going into the final week of the 2010 season, everything was going for the Ohio Bobcats. Here they were, in control of their own destiny just one win away against lowly Kent State away from making their second consecutive appearance in the MAC Championship game. Then it all fell apart.

Left nursing the wounds from that final regular season game and an embarrassing showing against Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, the Bobcats must get off of the canvas and be ready for the 2011 campaign. Luckily for them, there are many things that point to the team seeing even better results this season.

First, the ‘Cats face one of the easiest schedules in the entire country. They begin the year playing on the road at New Mexico State, a team that finished 1-7 in the WAC last season. Their “payday” game will be played at Rutgers, a team picked last in the conference’s preseason media poll. Assuming the Bobcats play to their potential, they could very well be in that game. Their only true tests on paper will be against Temple and Miami, two games that could very well decide the MAC East division. Luckily for the Bobcats, both of those games come at home.

Another reason to be optimistic is the return of most of the offensive unit. Departed quarterback Boo Jackson will most likely be replaced by redshirt sophomore Tyler Tettleton. He is used to running the pistol formation since high school and looked very comfortable during spring practice. Wide Receivers Terrence McCrae and Steven Goulet will need to be replaced as well, however there are plenty of options at that position. The return of the entire offensive line will benefit the newcomers and should give Tettleton support. The return of All-American LaVon Brazil, known for his playmaking ability on special teams, after missing nearly all of 2010 will bolster this unit as well.

If there is one area that the Bobcats could struggle in, it will be on the defensive side of the ball, primarily in the trenches. The Bobcats need to find four new defensive linemen. The squad will rely on linebackers Noah Keller and Eric Benjamin to pick up the slack. The secondary will also be very young and inexperienced, although some returnees from medical redshirts such as junior Gerald Moore will help.

With all this in mind, the question becomes how many games will the team win? Given the fact they look just as good if not better than all of their opponents on paper 12-0 isn’t inconceivable, but running the table is hard to do no matter what the competition. A 10-2 mark looks much more realistic given the inexperience on defense and leaving room for inevitable injuries that may pop up during the season. Anything less than that could be viewed as a disappointment given the easy schedule. A return to Detroit for the MAC Championship game will hinge on their results against Temple and Miami and it will be very interesting to see how the team handles the pressure.

This is a very exciting time for Ohio football, and it looks like 2011 could very well be remembered as the year it all came together.

NOTE: I will be covering the team for MAC Report Online, so be on the lookout for my reports from Athens all season long!

The Curious Case of Pedro Alvarez

This last week and a half have been trying times for the Pirate faithful. A 10 game losing streak has sent the team in a tailspin from first place to fourth, and nearly 10 games out of the NL Central lead.

There have been many lightning rods for criticism during this recent stretch, though no one seems to have more of a storm of negativity surrounding him than third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

Some of it has been warranted. He did show up for the 2011 season out of shape which somewhat affected his performance and had much to do with his injury woes this season. His .206/.274/.300/.574 line is bad, especially for a third baseman. The Pirates were counting on him for at least 25 home runs and he has hit just three. On Friday, he turned in one of the worst offensive performances I have ever seen.

Add an error to that, and you can’t have a worse game.

However, the only thing worse than Pedro’s performance has been the reaction from fans on his struggles.

Many are calling for him to be sent down to the minors again. Even worse, others are calling him a “bust” and want him run out of town.

I think the Pirates are (Gasp!) making the right decision by playing Pedro every day out there. Here are the reasons why.

1.Small sample sizes misguide the uninformed fan.
A lot of people are freaking out about Pedro’s “lost” 2011 campaign. As I mentioned earlier, it is pretty horrible and there is no denying that. However, in no way should the Pirates give up on him. Since he was called up in June 2010, he has played 145 games in the majors, roughly one season. In that time he has hit .239 with 19 HR and 71 RBI with an OPS of .715, hardly an embarrassing stat line for a rookie season. It is complete rubbish to think that a 24 year old has hit his ceiling without even playing 162 career games yet. If we are seeing what we are in 2011 two or three years down the road, then it’s a completely different story.

2. He is still developing.
Let’s play a little guessing game. See if you can guess the players based on their statistics from their first full seasons worth of games in the Major Leagues.

Player A: .196 AVG/ 18 HR/ 62 RBI
Player B: .238 AVG/ 3 HR/ 32 RBI
Player C: .239 AVG/ 19 HR/ 71 RBI

Player A is Mike Schmitt, Player B is Brooks Robinson, and Player C is Pedro Alvarez. Many Hall of Fame sluggers struggled to hit early in their careers, but eventually found their stride. I’m not saying that Pedro will be the next Schmitt or Robinson, but there is certainly evidence out there that a breakout from Alvarez could be coming soon.

3. Playing him in AAA accomplishes nothing.
There is a second camp besides the “get rid of the bum” one that thinks Pedro was called up too early from Indianapolis and the Bucs should send him back down. The problem behind that is he has mastered hitting in the minors. In 84 games at the AAA level he has hit .295/.384/.544/.928 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS). In AA those numbers blow up to .333/.419/.590/1.009. Having him play against much inferior competition like that wouldn’t help him improve at all. He would become a much better major league hitter by getting reps off of major league pitching.

4. The other options aren’t much better.
The Pirates saw many faces play third during Pedro’s time on the DL. While the team won quite a few games with them, the production from this position, no matter who is playing, is actually quite poor.

Brandon Wood .236/.306/.388/.694/7 HR/24 RBI
Josh Harrison .263/.271/.305/.576/ 0 HR/ 5 RBI
Chase d’Arnaud .225/.245/.294/.539/ 0 HR/2 RBI
Pedro Alvarez .206/.274/.300/.574/ 3 HR/14 RBI

So for those who feel the Pirates would be better off with Wood or Harrison at the hot corner, the substitution would offer little to no help.

So what have I concluded here?

That there is plenty of evidence suggesting that the Pirates are better off sticking with Pedro Alvarez at third base. A lot of people may not like it, but think about this: Even if he had hit three home runs Friday night against the Padres rather than double plays, the Pirates still would have lost 15-14.

Find something else to complain about (ahem, the pitching).

2010 Topps Chrome: Impulsive Card Buying

Trips to Wal-Mart can no longer be made with making a stop at the sports card display at the front of the store.

Since I’m basically done with the Topps set for 2011, I strafed around looking for a good deal.

Those $20 value boxes with a bunch of packs from different years and brands looked good at first, until this caught my eye.

8 packs of a quality product on sale for just $12. I’ll take that.

If you are unfamiliar with Topps Chrome, it is basically a condensed version of the regular Topps (only 220 cards as compared to 660) that is printed on fancy holographic “chrome” stock. When the yearly design is good, the images pop off the cards and look amazing.

My box contained 7 packs plus one bonus pack, which really was just 8 regular packs (stupid I know). Each one has four cards. Since it’s retail, odds of getting something nice are low. This product is heavy on rookies and hobby boxes (24 packs 4 cards per pack) guarantee two on card rookie autographs. Given that this year’s class was loaded with young guns such as Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and Starlin Castro to name a few the results could be nice.

I pulled some good rookies in mine.

Unlike the regular version of Topps, there aren’t many inserts in Chrome, but rather refractor parallels that add some extra life to the cards with a rainbow sheen in the light.

X-fractor cards look cool too.

The scans don’t do them justice. They have a kaleidoscope type stock that looks great on display.

Another gimmick is Chrome parallels of other products. I got this Carl Crawford reprint of a 2010 Topps Heritage.

The odds of getting one was 1 in 86 packs so I was happy to pull one here.

I do have a couple gripes though. For whatever reason a lot of the cards are warped.

Kind of makes them look bad, though keeping them in binder pages will fix that. The cards are not centered well either, which kind of takes away from their look.

Another thing I don’t like is how when the checklist gets cut down, a lot of teams get left in the dust. Take the Pirates for example. Only four players made the cut: Andrew McCutchen, Aki Iwamura (????), Zach Duke, and Daniel McCutchen. This came out in October of 2010. You would have thought guys like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, or Neil Walker would have been included instead of bums like Duke and Iwamura. Plenty of great rookies make up for it however.

All in all, I can’t complain about this product. Since it got left in the dust thanks to the Strasburg-mania stir caused by Bowman it can be had on the cheap online, though it offers many of the same great young players. The cards are great for keeping in display, especially if you can get them autographed by players (my signed 2009 Andrew McCutchen rookie from this product will forever be my favorite). Some technical flaws keep it from getting my highest marks. I really hope Topps can straighten that out for the 2011 version.

Grade: B+

Trade Deadline Review: Pirates add Lee, Ludwick

It’s a position the Pirates have been waiting to be in for some time. In 2011, they would finally be buyers at the trade deadline.

Unfortunately, it became a sellers market as the deadline came near. The most coveted players, Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran, had too high of a price tag. Those hoping the Bucs would make a big splash were left disappointed.

The Pirates were still able to make upgrades, albeit minor ones, by acquiring first baseman Derrek Lee from the Orioles and outfielder Ryan Ludwick from the Padres.

Derrek Lee

The Pirates brought in the 35 year-old bopper from Baltimore to help get some more production out of first base. Everyone and their mother knows that Lyle Overbay has been a colossal failure this year, and it certainly made sense to bolster this position.

On the downswing of his career, Lee has posted a .246/.302/.404 line so far in 2011 that is a far cry from the numbers he has put up the past decade. He has been better as of late, reaching base safely in 14 of his last 18 games while posting an average of .309 during that stretch. On the Orioles’ past road trip he hit two home runs and knocked in seven RBIs.

With the acquisition of Lee, the Pirates are looking for just that, a couple of hot months from a player with some pop. Even so, he isn’t a piece that puts the Pirates up to the level of the Cardinals or Brewers. This move was to bring marginal improvement to first base, while avoiding the firestorm that would have come with Lyle Overbay continuing to start at that position. Since they are only giving up a middle-range prospect in Aaron Baker they didn’t give up much to pick up Lee either, which is important given the team’s circumstances.

Ryan Ludwick

After the acquisition of Lee late Saturday night, I along with many others feared that the Pirates would not be able to make another move. Sunday morning, reports began coming out that the Pirates were looking to add an outfielder. Many had hoped for Jason Kubel of the Minnesota Twins, but since they are still in the AL Central race, they would not budge.

The Pirates turned their sights on Padres left fielder Ryan Ludwick. Shortly before 4 p.m. he was officially made a member of the team in exchange for the proverbial “Player to be named later”.

Like Lee, Ludwick has had his struggles in 2011. His line is .238/.301/.373 which is pretty ugly. In fact, his OPS is lower than Garrett Jones, the player he will most likely replace in the lineup.

In his defense, he is hitting .258/.300/.358 on the road as compared to .218/.302/.356 in his former home ballpark, the cavernous PETCO Park. He has been an above average defender in the outfield, something the Pirates have shown that they sorely need after the chest-pain-inducing play from Xavier Paul, Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce as of late. His 61 RBIs while playing on a team that had the worst average and on-base in the National League is impressive.

Like Lee, he isn’t a piece that throws the Pirates over the top, but just some added production so the team can stay somewhat competitive on offense. Given the woes of the team’s hitting the last few weeks, it shouldn’t be that hard. He is also a Type B free agent at the end of the season, meaning the Pirates can get a compensation pick in next year’s draft if he does not resign with the Bucs.

Review

All in all the Pirates did a fair job bringing in players that should be able to improve the popgun offense all while giving up relatively little. I would have liked to see them get a bat for pinch-hitting late in games (Jason Giambi comes to mind) or sell high on some of their relievers such as Jose Veras or Chris Resop. Can’t argue with the results though. Neil Huntington did as good as anyone could have as a first time buyer.