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Winding down and getting ready to return home

BRADENTON, Fla. — It hardly seems possible but our annual winter fling in Florida is almost over.

Spring training baseball is wrapping up and we should be back in Altoona on April 1. Hopefully, we can bring some of this great weather back north.

The Pirates have been hot lately. Just a few days ago, the Bucs had a 13-12 Grapefruit League record and were riding a five-game winning streak after Jung Ho Kang smacked a walk-off, bases-loaded homer in the bottom of the ninth Thursday. That lifted the Pirates over the Orioles, 7-5, at LECOM Park.

Kang didn’t play the past couple of years (DUI offenses in South Korea) but apparently has won the third-base job over incumbent Collin Moran. Kang’s homer Thursday was his sixth and the Bucs will need a big season from him if they are to make some noise in the National League’s Central Division.

The Pirates beat the Phillies at home on Saturday, and now finish the Grapefruit League with four road games, including a pair at Houston March 25 and 26. The club opens regular-season play this Thursday in Cincinnati.

Personally, I don’t expect big things from the Bucs this season. They don’t have much power (unless Kang and Josh Bell have big years), they have a new (inexperienced) shortstop in Erik Gonzalez, second baseman Adam Frazier is in his first year as a regular. And, don’t forget that right fielder Gregory Polanco could be out until May or June.

Pitching (both starting and relieving) will have to be a staple for the Pirates this season. That means the likes of Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer and Joe Musgrove, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vasquez will have to be solid.

Looking ahead

Two of the better players in the spring were former Curve infielders Ke’ Bryan Hayes and Cole Tucker, both of who will start the season with Triple-A Indianapolis and probably won’t be in the majors until 2020.

Will Craig and Josh Martin, also ex-Curve standouts, should help in future years, too.

Friendly faces

Duane Bordell and a bus load of 40 Curve fans spent a few days here this week enjoying the Pirates and Florida.

Familiar faces with the group included Walt Frank, Dean Esper, Pete Mitchell, Joe Keller and Margie Campbell. I also bumped into Chuck and Debbie Griswold and Joe and Kathy Shuta at the ballpark.

After the game

We made eating stops at Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Duff’s Original Buffet and Culver’s this week.

This will be my last spring training column as there are no games at LECOM this week. See you at Peoples Natural Gas Field for the Curve in a couple of weeks.

Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.

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