BRADENTON, Fla. - We're getting ready to wrap up another winter-spring here. Although the natives and fulltime residents like to refer to Florida as paradise, I wouldn't call it paradise. Not this year.
Our two months here have been fine, just not as great weather-wise as recent years. However, I'm sure most of you probably would have been glad to trade your last two months for ours.
Despite the weather, we probably were as busy as we've ever been. We didn't spend much time at the beach or pool, but we took in plenty of baseball. Besides all of the Pirates games at much-improved (thanks to $10 million of renovations) McKechnie Field, we took side trips to Tiger Town (Detroit Tigers) in Lakeland and ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, home of the Atlanta Braves. Both are terrific venues.
Lots of folks from the Altoona/Blair County area made their way here to vacation and we enjoyed chatting with them. Among the recent visitors were Bob and Posey Anthony, John Prosperi, Curve owners Bob and Joan Lozinak and GM Rob Egan and my cousin, Leo Walters, and his buddies.
We also spent time with a busload of Altoona area folks who saw a couple of Grapefruit League games and took in some of the local sights, too. After a tour of Pirate City last Tuesday, the group enjoyed a picnic hosted by several Altoonans who winter here. Curve batting coach Ryan Long and his family and Curve GM Egan attended the picnic at the Pinebrook/Ironwood Community Center.
The Raystown Transit group, escorted by Duane Bordell, included James and Elizabeth Deihl, Frank and Linda Steiner, Joe Daversa, George and Joyce Frank, Ken and Susie Mielnik, Angie Crawford, Linda McKernan, Sharon Oakman, Jack Ickes, Nancy Wise, Marcie Campbell, Sandy Colegrove, Tim, Peggy and Heather Thomas, Bob Patterson, Walter Lindemere, Richard and Beverly Swartz, Beverly Blackburn, Robert and Kathy Smith, Richard Angermeier, Joe Gehl, Shirley Hippo, Joan Reed, Helen Christodoulos, Mary Knox, Barbara Parkins, Richard and June Hess and Ira Srock.
The games are winding down, too. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays were here this past week. The Bucs close out the home portion of the spring training schedule by hosting the Orioles on Sunday and the Twins next Wednesday. They play the Yanks at Tampa next Thursday before flying to Pittsburgh. They play the Curve in Altoona on Saturday, March 30 and open the 2013 regular season by hosting the Cubs on Monday, April 1.
Jean and Joan added Joe Girardi, Kevin Youkilis, and Dave Robertson of the Yankees, Shane Victorino and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Red Sox, Kelly Johnson and Desmond Jennings of the Rays and Pedro Alvarez and Francisco Liriano of the Pirates to their list of autographs.
With the 2013 major league season less than two weeks away, people are asking me if I think the Pirates can end their 20-year losing streak. From my perch in the press box at McKechnie Field, I haven't seen a whole lot to get excited about because the cast of characters is pretty much the same.
So the questions are many, and here are just a few: Can A.J. Burnett win 16 again? Can James McDonald have a complete season? Can Jason Grilli handle the closer's role? Is Andrew McCutchen an MVP-type player? Can Pedro Alvarez hit 30-plus homers as the cleanup hitter? How about Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Karstens and Garrett Jones? Does Russell Martin have anything left in the tank? And, of course, the Astros are no longer in the NL Central to beat up on.
My guess is no playoffs, and a .500 record is probably another year away, or at least until Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon become top-of-the-rotation pitchers.
Hope you've enjoyed our little diaries the past seven weeks because I've had fun filling you in on our comings and goings. Hopefully, we'll do it again next year.
Jim Lane is a retired sports editor of the Mirror. He writes from Florida in February and March.