11-13-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
As soon as Gary mentioned that he would be going to Florida for a much deserved long weekend away, I immediately felt myself being transported to Madeira Beach; although my feet remained firmly planted in Western Pennsylvania.
Each year, at the end of July/beginning of August-for the past seven years personally-anywhere from 20 to 30 of our family members invade the pool, sand and warm waters of the Gulf for a week of fun in the sun; with some baseball always mixed in. However, on this specific occasion, the memories that popped into my mind had nothing to do with loading up our cars to go see any number of Minor League teams-or the Tampa Bay Rays-take the field. No, this time I was standing beside my youngest, waist deep in the water with him clumsily balanced on a boogie board; just waiting for the perfect wave to come in to take him to shore, as I had done with his older brother and sister over the years.
Now, for anyone that hasn’t tried to ride a wave-or at the very least assisted someone in learning how to do so on their own-it is actually a fairly tedious and time consuming venture; mostly consisting of looking for the water to swell, come to a crest and begin to crash pretty much right behind where you are standing and/or floating. If they break too far behind you, all momentum is lost, and the board will simply bob you up and down in the water as next crescendo takes place too far in front to be able to catch up.
At this point you may feel the urge to move back or in to find the exact spots were the waves crashed before; and often you do. But, then you witness the swell and break happen exactly where you first stood; or most times in a completely different place all together. So, you move up or back-over and over-until finally there is a push from behind as the wave grabs hold; forcefully driving you and your board toward the sand. It only lasts for a couple of seconds, but it’s just long enough that you go rushing back into the water to try it again; as the cycle of waiting, watching, plotting and searching repeatedly takes place. Always looking for the perfect spot to catch that next wave.
Similarly, we as Pirates Fans-just like my son on the boogie board-have been compelled to wait and watch, while Ben Cherington plots and seeks; or in his baseball terminology, works to identify and attempts acquire talent. Thus far, his efforts have resulted in the sprinkling of high ceiling prospects in a few different waves throughout the organization; to go along with a couple Major League ready players, several unknowns and a variety of holdovers from previous regime.
In the presumptive first wave includes Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure and maybe Rodolfo Castro, who all got to dip their toes in the water this past season. Other possibilities include Travis Swaggerty, Mason Martin, Diego Castillo, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba and Ji-Hwan Bae; or Cody Bolton if and when he returns healthy.
Next up, and potentially more highly anticipated, is the second wave with Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Quinn Priester, Carmen Mlodzinski, Michael Burrows, Omar Cruz, Matt Frazier, Jared Triolo and Henry Davis expected to arrive in the next couple of years.
Finally, you have a somewhat more spread out grouping of Jared Jones, Hudson Head, Endy Rodriguez, Brennan Malone, Po-Yu Chen, Eddie Yean, Anthony Solometo, Bubba Chandler, Lonnie White, Jr., Shalin Polanco and Solomon Maguire in the third wave and beyond.
Each of these is a swell within in the system, accompanied by other prospects in between; not knowing where/when exactly they will crest and break. If they fall behind, it is normally due to a peak in the Minors with a less than optimal performance once they reach PNC. The ones that crash-in a positive or negative way-closer to the sand might not help the Pirates because many of those within that mix could be gone by then; with an unpredictable amount left to help bring in the board, or welcome it ashore.
In all honesty, it’s truly a guessing game; combined with a little bit of hope, and optimistically a good amount of skill backing the decision making.
Yet, there’s one thing I forgot to mention, especially when it comes to my youngest. The push I give him to get him going, which in the Pirates case would be that free agent or two that help bolster the team, and in turn the opportunity to succeed. Still, it has to be perfectly timed like the wave-while factoring in precision and balance-as not to upset the initial drive; because any miscalculation could easily result in an overturned board.
And none of this even takes into consideration the possibility of injuries, or what a Bryan Reynolds trade (not gonna happen…right now) could mean to the state of the organization. Just like my youngest having his big sister, big brother or a multitude of cousins stepping in front of him as he makes his way to the promised land; crushing his spirits before he could barely get started.
It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not always going to be enjoyable for Pirates Fan; and success is obviously not guaranteed. But, exactly like my son, the rides that stick out in our minds are usually the ones that last the longest and create the most fun; even though there is often a lot of down time in between.