Dear Francisco Liriano,
I'm writing to you today because each of the past three years, The Morning File has spent opening day of baseball season wishing the Pirates' starting pitcher good luck for his and the team's season, and each time the results have been progressively better.
It's true that none of these particular pitchers ever seems to last long in black and gold -- goodbye and godspeed, Kevin Correia, Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett -- but that's hardly germane.
The key point is that the Bucs won just 57 games in 2010 before this letter-writing tradition began, and the wins have since jumped to 72, then 79, then 94. At this rate of improvement, the team's record will be a historic 131-31 by 2016, and I hope you're still around to enjoy it -- let's see if anyone even remembers a silly 20-season losing streak once that happens.
It's been six months since the Pirates played their last meaningful game, so it'd be easy to forget just how much excitement you and your teammates generated last year, but I don't think many people have. I have to confess that I was not the fan who celebrated your wild-card victory over the Reds by jumping from the Roberto Clemente Bridge into the Allegheny River, but it's only because it was so crowded that I couldn't find a good jumping-off point.
I instead gave a dollar to the saxophone player on the bridge -- I trust that counts just as much as a measure of crazed enthusiasm, considering the general tenor of his playing.
The downside to last season's heroics is that everyone expects so much now, which might be unfair considering some measure of faith is being placed at the outset in a couple of guys named Travis (Snider and Ishikawa), whose Major League Baseball performance thus far has been about what you would expect from a couple of guys named Travis. No one is going to confuse them with Duke Snider (or even Duke Ishikawa, if such an animal exists).
So it's probably best to temper the hopes a bit. As you know from your own annual pitching performances, it's difficult to follow up one good year with another good year. (Sorry to dredge up that personal fun fact, if you'd forgotten.) We'll just wish for the best, and pray that the bit of groin trouble you had this spring was nothing serious. (As one sitting at a desk all day, I can't necessarily relate to that malady, but sometimes my rear end does hurt by 5 p.m. -- do you suppose that feels like the same thing?)
One thing I don't understand: You won the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award last year, but I didn't read anything over the weekend about anyone showing up today to hand you that. I only saw that Barry Bonds will appear at PNC Park to help give Andrew McCutchen his MVP award.
Did you have any say in that invitation? I ask only because considering Barry wasn't too popular when he left here, and then there was all that steroid stuff surrounding him, and now he has all these home run records that people don't think he deserves, it's just possible that a couple of people who tailgate before the game today may offer discouraging noises in Barry's direction, somewhat sullying the occasion. I'm not saying that will happen, because after all, we're talking about Pittsburgh people here. (Hey, wait, did you just smirk, Francisco?)
I'm glad to see it will be nice and warm for you to pitch today, as I trust with your Dominican background you would favor that. Was the weather nice for you there in the off-season? Maybe you heard that the weather here made many people have suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, most of us didn't follow through on them, as you already have enough trouble drawing fans to games at PNC Park in April.
I did note, however, that the ballpark is making available this season a toasted sourdough bread sandwich called The Closer with nine different types of cheese on it. Perhaps that will draw a few more non-vegans into the place.
Let's see, what else happened while you were away? We got a new mayor, the Steelers missed the playoffs (again), UPMC and Highmark are at each other's throats on TV (again) and some local bald eagles have had babies.
But you probably don't care about any of that, which is cool. If you just do what you did last year, everyone will be happy. And regardless, I will be in the grandstand waving my Jolly Roger around like mad for everyone to see while rooting you on. (Smirking again, Francisco? Really?)
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.