On the Pirates: Superman vs. the Flash
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DENVER -- A staple storyline of superhero comics over recent decades has seen Superman race the Flash, usually with the fate of the universe on the line. And, more often than not, the two would distracted by some masked villain, the outcome muddled, and the winner was left up to the reader.
Albeit far less dramatic, the Pirates easily could stage their own what-if scenario: Which of their two blazing speedsters would win a race around the basepaths, Nyjer Morgan or Andrew McCutchen?
The two clearly had a blast engaging in the topic when it was raised this week.
"I think he's got to give it to me, because I've got the fresher legs," McCutchen said, grinning. "Mm-hm. He's got some years on him."
Morgan is 29, McCutchen 22.
"I'm older, but I'm also the wiser one, so I'm going to say myself," Morgan shot back. "My legs are still young and fresh."
Sounds like an arbiter is needed, so let us call in Tony Beasley, the Pirates' baserunning instructor.
"Oooh," Beasley responded when the topic was raised. "How long is the race?"
Home to first?
"Nyjer wins that," Beasley said. "Left-handed batter out of the box."
First to third?
"McCutchen wins that."
All the way around?
"McCutchen wins that. Because he has closing speed. Once he gets going, he maintains his speed. He has better running form, and he'll take better angles around the bases."
That seems especially true, even to the untrained eye, with McCutchen's exhilarating burst between first and third, one in which his path appears to be a straight line.
"I don't know that I've seen anything like it in my time in baseball," Beasley said. "He's unbelievable. Between first and second, he gets into another gear, and he maintains it."
Even Morgan conceded: "I think the kid might get me from first to third. He really gets moving there. It looks like he bends that left-hand turn for himself."
McCutchen attributed that to practicing the angle tirelessly over the years.
"It's just a matter of doing a lot of running, knowing my angles. I kick in between first and second, and, yeah, it does feel like a straight line to me."
The speed, obviously, helps: McCutchen was a sprinter until his freshman year at Fort Meade High School in Florida, running the 100 meters in an exemplary 10.6 seconds and anchoring his school's state championship 4x100 relay team.
To be sure, PNC Park deserves all the accolades it gets, locally and nationally. It is an architectural gem worthy of and honoring its city, it has the friendliest seating bowl in baseball, and it embraces the best view in sports.
But no place is perfect, and this is one person's list of three pet peeves:
• That Pirates Charities sign -- the big, white box above the Clemente Wall that looks like an invitation to Sheetz -- is glaringly visible from Downtown and miles around, even though it never was part of the original design and, indeed, is an eyesore compared to the rest. It was built in 2006 to house an All-Star logo and, unfortunately, never was removed.
• It is one of the few major sports facilities in North America that does not sell Starbucks-type specialty coffee, a remarkable item to omit given its popularity. In fact, there is no such coffee shop anywhere on the North Shore. There once was a Seattle's Best chain in the ballpark facing Federal Street, but that left four years ago, and that storefront -- as with others -- remains empty.
• Fans never are ejected for interfering with balls in play. They are given a warning, even though a warning already is made by the PA announcer before each game, and that is it. This embarrasses the Pirates -- and the season-ticket holders who know better than to reach over the railings -- each time such a highlight is shown on TV, particularly when it hurts the home team.
So, if Brad Lincoln is excelling in Class AA Altoona, why has he not been promoted to Class AAA Indianapolis?
If Rudy Owens is doing likewise with Class A West Virginia, why not move him up, too?
A part of the Pirates' thinking with situations such as this is they want to see how players -- pitchers, specifically -- handle a start or two after they begin hearing questions on this topic, whether from their hometown reporters, fans or even family and friends.
Will they pout?
Will performance sag?
"You want your players to be mentally tough," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "It's all part of the growing process."
That said, look for Lincoln and Owens to get promotions imminently.
If the Pirates were to make a sizable investment in elite Dominican prospect Miguel Angel Sano -- and that remains far from certain, given heightened interest among other teams -- it would not come without risks. He is 16, and much, much has to go right for someone that age to reach the majors, regardless of talent.
But, if management is looking for a sign that serious investment in Latin American talent can pay, there are some highly promising -- albeit very early -- returns with the Pirates' entry in the Venezuelan Summer League team, which is high atop the standings at 22-7 and boasts two of the most expensive players in franchise history.
One is left fielder Exicardo Cayones, who received a team-record $400,000 bonus last year: He is batting .300 with a .444 on-base percentage and 11 RBIs. And this at age 17 against players mostly two years older.
Two others who received six-figure bonuses last year are Colombian shortstop Jonathan Barrios, batting .294 and with good defense, and Mexican starter Roberto Espinoza, 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA.
The star, though, has been comparatively inexpensive Panamanian second baseman Jorge Bishop, batting .371 with six home runs and 26 RBIs. He is only 18, but he also is only 5 feet 10, 152 pounds.
First Published June 21, 2009 12:00 am