Last night I watched a remarkable scene unfold as Robert Morris University punched their ticket to the dance by winning the NEC Championship. It was surreal watching the elation and happening in the same season they opened their new barn too. What a story, and it made me think about the Pirates, specifically the Wild Card runs experienced in 2013-2015.
The Wild Card at times is little more than what Robert Morris accomplished, making the tournament. Of course, with the subtraction of actually having a championship under your belt, albeit a division. For in that moment, Robert Morris wasn’t the DII school who has talent poached from its ranks year after year, the Pirates weren’t that team that hadn’t smelled postseason baseball for nearly a quarter century.
Next season, everything will go right back to normal for Bobby Mo, they’ll be a DII School, with one solitary chance to make the tournament and I hope they do. For the Pirates though, they were able to stick around, they actually got a chance to dance with the big boys for a couple seasons, sadly the result stayed the same despite the increased spending for a season or two.
There are two very big differences and I’ve already touched on them a bit, first, the Pirates did not get to say we are champions, and second, there is no DII in MLB, at least not on the books.
One thing above all pairs these situations together in perpetuity, they are both David in a league of Goliath’s. Oh, I could argue that the Pirates have the ability to give themselves better equipment to work with than the sling they currently employ, but rest assured, the weaponry would never do more than lessen the steepness of the hill they face most seasons.
But that’s the hope, that you make the tournament, either by Wildcard or Division and take the “Any Given Sunday” approach to advancing through the juggernaut of high priced, talent rich teams. If you do everything right, you get a three- or four-year window where even that level of success is realistic. Add in how hard and rare it is to see this executed properly anywhere and the odds get even longer.
Not to say buying a championship is a given, after all Goliath has at least one documented weak spot. It sure is easier to win when the tournament is the starting point, and right here, March 11th, 2020, I can tell you the LA Dodgers are the favorite to win the NL. Will they? Nobody knows, but they’ll be in the dance and I’d rather be in that position than a team that has to do all that stuff exactly right to have a small window of opportunity, especially when it’s an opportunity to try to match up with this particular Goliath.
Baseball’s economic system is an excuse given to owners like Bob Nutting, but it isn’t a baseless one. He uses it to his advantage and excuses himself by citing it far too often, and I say if he doesn’t do something active and visible as the owners and players negotiate, he should no longer be able to use it as a rationale.
It is wholly in his power to stand up for the unfair conditions he openly blames for his team’s payroll. He may not win, but he better fight. He expects his own roster to play David every season, I see no reason we shouldn’t expect the same from him.
I loved the scene the NEC Championship, but make no mistake, that elation comes from the knowledge that this is not every season thing. Its rarity highlights the improbability of victory and amps the energy, much like at PNC back when Cueto dropped the ball. Time to make the playing field more even and the ball is all yours Mr. Nutting.