A quick shout-out before we start to all of those who wrote over the past two weeks with kind wishes or advice or simply questions about Xavier Nady.
Notable among these, I feel compelled to point out, was Phil Senich, agent for Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who dealt with Crohn's on his way to reaching the NFL. Senich offered to have Garrard speak with Nady to offer support in the event that the tests showed any kind of chronic condition, which, fortunately, they did not.
For all the negative publicity and show-me-the-money stereotypes associated with agents, I thought this first-class gesture might interest some.
If anyone is interested in more on the subject of Garrard and Crohn's, Senich passed along this link.
One thing I always tried to do as a fan -- and find much easier to do with daily interaction -- is to never forget these are human beings, not icons, not statistics, not fantasy-league pieces, not interchangeable parts.
Trust me when I tell you that Sunday was a very good day for your Pittsburgh Baseball Club.
Q: Dejan, how important do you think it is for the Big Four starters to have successful springs? I know it is only spring training, but ...
Kevin Van Asdalan of Banksville, Pittsburgh
KOVACEVIC: In a normal situation, I would say it is irrelevant. Experienced pitchers tend to move gradually through spring, first working on fastball command, then adding other pitches as they go, and ultimately being at their peak for April.
Jim Colborn has told me that none of these four -- Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny -- is taking that approach. In fact, he added that none of them is doing anything at a gradual speed, largely because they are more comfortable with the paces they have set in previous springs.
As it is, then, it probably is important. We saw last season that poor springs for Duke and Maholm carried over into poor starts in the regular season and, in each case, with much the same characteristics. The Pirates can ill afford to have their starters again taking three months to get comfortable. It has to happen right away and decisively for the team to be competitive.
No variable is greater than that for the coming season. Think about it: You have a pretty good idea what you will get from the offense, defense and, to a lesser extent, the bullpen. But the rotation? Who knows?
Q: Dejan, just my observations on Saturday's ticket event at PNC Park: We will ... say thank you to the Pirates for their hospitality!
The Pirates treated about 200 or so hardy earlybirds to free coffee and cookies. The Pirate Parrot and Jolly Roger mascots worked the crowd, slapping high-fives with kids and mugging for pictures. Shortly before the ticket windows opened at 10 a.m., interns distributed a free ballcap to every fan waiting in line.
It got better. The ticket lines moved swiftly, and their computer system worked without delay for a change. The Pirates allowed fans to visit the enclosed club level during the open house, which was a nice way to warm up.
I have been critical of the Pirates in the past. Saturday, they earned my respect.
Dan Skantar of North Fayette
KOVACEVIC: We certainly get enough complaints in this forum that the balance is welcome. As I have written here before, no one ever writes to City Hall to say the garbage collectors did a great job that day.
It is interesting to me how that day has become something of an event, first on its own, then with added urging from the team. Obviously, I was not there, but I heard one fan showed up at 11:30 the previous night and that, eventually, the line wrapped around the building.
Thing No. 14 that I miss about Pittsburgh: There are ducks in the middle of Downtown. No, not on the pond that two centuries ago covered the area now known as Market Square. And no, not real ducks. They are little rubber ducks and frogs and a fish or two, and the only significance they bear is that they sit in a small, churning fountain inside the courtyard of the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club on William Penn Place.
Overwhelmed by skyscrapers on all side, it is incredibly easy to overlook the oldest houses standing anywhere in the Downtown area. (No, the Blockhouse, does not count. It was not designed to be a house.) Most of the houses were lost in the Great Fire of 1845, and this one originally was built in 1890, remodeled in 1930. It actually is six connected houses that some college graduates made into a club. Not sure what goes on in there now, but it looks kind of ritzy from the courtyard windows.
At any rate, the boy loves the rubber ducks, so we are regulars there. And even if he did not, I always have found it immensely cool to see some of the structures Downtown that have remained standing -- 140-year-old churches, Indian burial grounds from Colonial days, etc. -- despite have buildings of 30-54 stories stealing all their sunlight and spotlight.
Until tomorrow ...