Tag: Jack Wilson

New Jack City

| February 23, 2011 | 3 Comments

Jack Wilson, for many reasons, was quite a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.  He was never a great hitter, was always a pretty good fielder, and always busted his tail for the black and gold.  As a fan, you felt like he wanted to be here, and despite having California roots, Jack always seemed to feel like a Pittsburgh guy.  A lot of the Pirate fan base was upset when Jumpin Jack Flash was traded to the Seattle Mariners a couple of years ago, and since the Pirates didn’t get much in return, aside from a lesser shortstop replacement (sorry Ronny), some minor league players, and some magic beans, those fans had every right in the world to be resentful.  After all, if this team isn’t going to be winning, at least let me sit and watch guys that I like, or that I can relate to.

I, for one, thought that it would take this team a long time to find another player who defined the face of the franchise the way that Jack Wilson did.  The Pirates had many better players during Jack’s tenure as Bucco shortstop - Jason Bay, Freddie Sanchez, Brian Giles, etc. - but none of them had the love of the fanbase quite like Jack had captured.  It would take someone truly special to replace Jack as that ‘face of the franchise’.  It would take someone who truly “gets it”.  Someone who works their rear end off, and hustles on every play, who wants this team to win, and who truly wants to be a Pittsburgh Pirate.  And if that someone could even be from Pittsburgh, that would be the icing on the cake.  I know, what are the odds of that ever happening?   Well, until Neil Walker was called up from the minor leagues last May, anyway.

Neil Walker - Pittsburgh PiratesI don’t think there is any better person, let alone player, to open this blog’s infant history with than Neil Walker.  In less than a full season, Walker has become the single most popular player on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Like Jack’s situation, there are probably better players on the team – Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, probably Jose Tabata – but this Pirates team became Neil’s team almost the moment he arrived in ‘The Show’.  To watch Walker, to hear him speak, to see him deal with the media and fans…  he absolutely and unequivocally, ‘gets it’.   He’s a hometown kid that always wanted to grow up to play for the Pirates, and there is no place else he’d rather be.  

Unlike some of the other young players on the Pirates, no matter how good he becomes in the future, you just get the feeling that Neil Walker is going to be a Pirate forever.  Kinda like you felt with Jack, maybe even moreso.  How could they ever get rid of him?  Heck, he came up and hit .296 in his first season with the Pirates, knocked 12 home runs and drove in 66 runs.  He tied Albert Pujols for 3rd most RBI in the National League after the All Star break.  He didn’t even arrive in Pittsburgh until just before Memorial Day, and is playing a position that was one of the few he had’t previously been a regular at.  The expectations are that he will be much, much better in 2011.  That may be hard to achieve, and may be unfair to him, but it feels like it is almost a given seeing how hard he works and how comfortable he is in his role as a leader with, no, scratch that… as THE leader of this Pirates team.

Pedro Alvarez may hit 40 bombs this year.  Cutch may steal 40 bases, hit .320 and be a National League All Star.  Jose Tabata may break out onto the national stage with a huge year.  But this is Neil Walker’s team.  And there is no better person to have in that role, than someone who leads by example the way that he does. It’s been a long, long time for us Pirates fans since we’ve had a reason to be excited.  And history has shown, because of ownership, front office flaws, managerial shortcomings and a lack of talent, that the fans need to SEE something before they truly fall in love with this franchise again. 

But I just can’t help but feel like baseball is about to become relevant in Pittsburgh again.  And guys like Neil Walker are going to be a part of the solution that helps make that happen.   And if they don’t start winning, at least we’ll have a player that we can watch and enjoy, and somehow feel like we can relate to.