Who the heck knows anymore?
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Curve manager Matt Walbeck watches his team lose 19-2 Tuesday.
It can't get much worse than 19-2, the Curve's record-setting loss Tuesday against Erie. It only makes sense that the most awful season - the club is 25 games below .500 - now includes the most awful game in franchise history.
I am a big, big believer that some of the greatest lessons in life come from losing. It would be easy to win all the time and bask in the glory of being successful at everything, but the true test of a person's character can only be discovered during bad times.
Curve manager Matt Walbeck agrees.
"You find out what a guy's really about when he's down," he said following Tuesday's humbling loss.
Walbeck has a fascinating component of his past that makes him a great person to be leading this particular Curve team. A former catcher, he played on the 2003 Detroit Tigers squad that lost 119 games and came within one loss of tying the 1962 New York Mets' record for futility.
Walbeck, who played 59 games for the Tigers that year, called the experience "excruciating."
"I knew that, if I could get through that season, I could get through anything," he said.
One of the things he learned was that, no matter how bad things got, some players never let the tough times get the better of them.
"You found out a lot about guys that didn't roll over and quit," Walbeck said before adding, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Those words apply perfectly to this year's Curve team.
Most of these guys have enjoyed nothing but success on the baseball field for their entire lives. Now they are being looked upon as failures. As losers. That's not easy.
"It's really hard," Walbeck said. "It's hard for players to get used to a team that's not winning, and then it's also hard for players not to do well.
"They've hit .300 or they've had low ERAs [throughout their careers], and now all of a sudden they're struggling. So they're scared on their own behalf and on the team's behalf. There's a lot of negative energy going around on a team that's not doing well."
Some players may let that negative energy get them down, but not all. Despite the struggles, some of the guys still come to the ballpark every day with great optimism.
"You can look at the record here and say that this isn't a good team, but we don't believe that going out there," catcher Steve Lerud said. "If you look at our lineup up and down, we definitely can compete with anybody."
Maybe they can, but only if they keep the right frame of mind and not let this disastrous season or Tuesday's disastrous game crush their spirits.
"It's pretty easy to play when it's 72 and sunny and you're 4-for-4 and when you've got 27 straight scoreless innings or when you've won 10 in a row," Walbeck said. "But what's a guy like when he's down?"
Some, no doubt, are better than others. Some keep hustling, keep busting their tails, keep giving everything they've got. Others loaf, get down on themselves and start playing for their own statistics.
It's up to the manager at that point to make sure every player continues to play the game the right way, something Walbeck has done consistently well all season.
Center fielder Gorkys Hernandez failed to run out a popup in the bottom of the third inning Tuesday, and Walbeck immediately pulled him from the game. It was the third time since Hernandez joined the team a month ago that he has been yanked from a game for either failing to hustle or for showing an immature attitude.
That sort of behavior should not and is not being tolerated by Walbeck, who has made it a priority to teach players embarrassing lessons when they don't give their best effort.
"I have to stay consistent, otherwise it doesn't do any good," Walbeck said. "I think Gorkys learned from it."
The guys who can handle the adversity, make adjustments and overcome it will, in the long run, be better off for it. They will be better baseball players and stronger individuals.
"That's the biggest thing about developing major league players is learning from every night, every at-bat, every slump," Lerud said. "You have to learn from all that."
The ones who don't learn or can't cut it will filter out of the game and enter the real world, where boring jobs for little pay and no accolades will test their character every day. Even for those players, the lessons learned through sports will make a difference.
This terrible Curve season still has two months left, meaning the players still have two months to prove to themselves and to the Pirates that they will not be beaten by the bad times.
"I never expected to have a record like this," Walbeck said. "I've never had a record like this as a manager. But I'm fine coming to the ballpark the next day ready to lead by example and stay positive."
It should be noted that three years after Walbeck's dreadful Tigers team lost 119 games, the franchise went to the World Series. Many of the young players in that organization learned the valuable lessons taught by losing, remained mentally tough and played a role in Detroit's turnaround.
Some of the current Curve players will be counted on to do the same thing for the Pirates someday. If they can overcome this adversity, learn from it and help the Buccos eventually right the ship, no one will care how bad the Curve were this season.
Or how bad they were Tuesday night.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.