TRENTON, N.J. - It was a pleasure watching this Curve team all season.
If you love baseball, you respect players who just know how to win, and this team has an abundance of those.
Talent matters most, of course, and the Curve obviously are very talented. But that's not why they won the Eastern League championship.
They won it because they are an exceptional team filled with players who do all the little things right, play the game the way it's supposed to be played and simply find a way to get the job done every night.
"We were talking about it, even early on in the season, and we used the word magical," manager Matt Walbeck said.
Chemistry and intangibles are magical. They're not easily explained but are easily recognized.
It was obvious even before the season started, when the Curve lost only one game in spring training, that this group could do big things.
Most of the players were coming off a Carolina League championship at Single-A Lynchburg, so the winning intangible was in place.
"One of the things I said before the season started was this is a special team," pitching coach Tom Filer said.
The 2009 season was a disaster, with the Curve holding the worst record in the minor leagues about halfway through, until Pedro Alvarez came aboard. The club finished with a franchise-worst record of 62-80.
Watching all that terrible baseball day in and day out was depressing.
But it also made what we got to see this season all the better.
Everything went the Curve's way from day one. They started 3-0 and 7-1, hit Stephen Strasburg around not once but twice, had their players dominate the Eastern League All-Star Game, carried the best record in all of professional baseball for a while and, even after a slump in July, bounced back with a strong finish.
They did it all behind a tremendous pitching staff led by the best pitcher in franchise history, Rudy Owens, and numerous other outstanding arms such as Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris and closer Daniel Moskos.
Two other things cannot be overstated.
The team stayed remarkably healthy - all four infielders and most of the pitching staff were able to avoid injuries - so everyone was able to build a cohesiveness that strengthened all season.
Secondly, the Pirates deserve credit for leaving so many of the key contributors in Double-A all season. They didn't have to do that, especially because so many of the Curve's stars - like Owens and Wilson - could have gone up to Triple-A long ago.
"We're very fortunate that that happened to us, and we have to tip our cap to the people up there in Pittsburgh because they really helped us out," Filer said.
The goal of the Pirates is not to win minor league championships, but they did the Curve and city of Altoona a big favor by allowing this group to stay together and try to win a title.
"Obviously our focus is on helping players reach their potential to help win championships in Pittsburgh," Bucs farm director Kyle Stark said. "However, competing and learning how to win along the way is critical, and this group continues to do that.
"This is becoming the expectation for these guys. We're very proud of the efforts this year and look forward to them tackling the next challenges."
The ultimate challenge, of course, is turning around 18 years of losing in Pittsburgh. That will not be done without the right mix of players who understand how to play winning baseball and put that into effect every day.
These Curve players understand all that very well and, most of them anyway, have proven one very important thing for two years in a row in the minor leagues.
They are winners, plain and simple.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or email@example.com.