Despite record, Curve a success

This was a great awful season for the Curve.

That sounds strange, of course, so to clarify: So many great things happened throughout the season that, collectively, they easily overshadow the team’s awful 63-79 record.

How many times have we heard that winning isn’t important in the minor leagues? Well, the 2013 Curve season proved that beyond the shadow of a doubt because the results at the end really don’t matter much compared to how many good stories we were treated to. Such as:

n Far and away the best was the Pirates’ visit to Altoona on March 30 for an exhibition game. The spectacular day saw a record 10,116 fans turn out at Peoples Natural Gas Field to watch the Buccos get ready for what has turned out to be a magnificent season.

n One of the big reasons the Bucs are so good is all the homegrown players they’ve produced over the years and who played in Altoona on their way to the majors. A couple of times this year the Pirates have taken the field with eight Altoona alums in their starting lineup, and while we still have never seen all nine, it is pretty cool to turn on the TV and watch so many former Curve guys contributing on a terrific major league team.

n Fans didn’t have to turn on their TV to watch Pirates players this season since so many of them wound up playing for the Curve. Between rehab guys and players optioned before going back to Pittsburgh, there were 10 Buccos who played for Altoona: Neil Walker, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Travis Snider, Jose Contreras, Jared Hughes, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Tony Sanchez and Jason Grilli.

n Speaking of Grilli, what he did Monday in signing autographs for an hour and 15 minutes after he pitched was absolutely tremendous. One of the classiest things I’ve seen in my 20 years covering sports.

n The Curve threw just their second no-hitter ever, with Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend and Jhonathan Ramos doing the honors.

n Prized pitching prospect Jameson Taillon spent most of the season with the Curve and, while he didn’t dominate, he certainly showed the potential that could make him a cornerstone in Pittsburgh for years.

n Another great prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco, spent the last 2 months with the Curve and showed why many people believe he could be the Pirates’ right fielder of the future.

n No one could have predicted the emergence of outfielder Andrew Lambo, who spent parts of six seasons in Double-A, as the Eastern League’s best slugger for the first half of the season. He became the first Curve player to ever hit for the cycle, then he started launching home runs in Double-A and Triple-A to earn a call-up to the majors.

n Taillon and Polanco are higher-rated prospects, but outfielder Alex Dickerson was better than both of them as he earned team MVP and Eastern League Rookie of the Year honors. Dickerson struggled badly early in the season but was fantastic once the calendar turned to June. He was rewarded for his efforts with a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis following Monday’s game. The Pirates may or may not add him to the active roster in Indy, and that decision had not been made as of Monday.

n To watch what first baseman Justin Howard accomplished this season offered proof that even players who get overlooked can turn out to have great success if they take advantage of their opportunity when it arises. Howard led all of Double-A in hitting since the start of June.

n This might seem like more of a bad item, but a good brawl every now and then is always entertaining. Punches were flying fast and furious when the Curve and Harrisburg brawled at PNG Field, and it was easy to see it coming as tempers had flared an inning earlier.

n The team showed its potential with an eight-game winning streak in mid-June, only to show its remarkable inconsistency as it dropped nine of its next 10. That pretty much summed up the year.

A 63-79 season usually would be forgettable, but for all the reasons above, the Curve’s 15th season wound up being one of the franchise’s most memorable.

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger