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It's cool seeing former Curve stars be vital to Pirates' turnaround

July 6, 2011 - Cory Giger
The Pirates are relevant. In July. How awesome is that?

Four games above .500. Sole possession of second place in the NL Central, just a game and a half behind the Cardinals.

And fun to watch, each and every night.

That's the best part. Gone are the days when the Buccos couldn't compete and were barely an attraction worth watching on TV, let alone worthy of your hard-earned money for tickets.

This is shaping up to be a magical season for the Pirates, and it's pretty cool for us in Altoona to see that numerous former Curve players are a big part of the success.

That was the promise, right? Or at least the hope that came with the Curve's arrival in 1999.

There would always be that chance to see minor leaguers star at Blair County Ballpark, then eventually star in Pittsburgh and help the Pirates end this dreadful 18-year losing streak.

Unfortunately, all we saw was disappointment and/or failure from so many Curve alums. You know the names: Brad Eldred, Chris Duffy, Ian Snell, Ronny Paulino, Zach Duke and on and on.

Not anymore.

Now it's Andrew McCutchen. And Neil Walker. And Paul Maholm. And major league newcomers Alex Presley, Chase d'Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Eric Fryer, Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson, all members of the current active roster. Plus Jose Tabata, who's injured but expected back soon.

Seeing so many former Curve players become integral parts of not only the Pirates' future but a potentially lucrative Pirates future should be gratifying to the great baseball fans of central PA.

We got to see McCutchen go from a skinny, sometimes overmatched Curve player in 2007 to a major league standout. (And shame on the goofs in Major League Baseball who denied him a spot in this year's All-Star Game.)

We got to see Walker, also on the 2007 Curve team, persevere through position changes and a lack of faith by upper management to become the Pirates' RBI leader.

One of the key aspects of this turnaround by the Bucs is that when they have a need and call up a minor leaguer, there's a good player waiting in the wings who deserves a shot. That hasn't been the case over the years because of so little depth in the organization.

Take Presley, for instance. He was stuck in Triple-A despite hitting .330 all season, but with Tabata injured, he has stepped in and provided a spark at the top of the order (he's hitting .324).

"His preparation is, bar none, one of the best," said Curve outfielder Andrew Lambo, who spent the first half playing with Presley in Indianapolis. "The way he came to the park every day and prepared himself for the game, it's awesome to watch."

It's also been awesome watching d'Arnaud, Harrison, Moskos and Watson go from winning an Eastern League title with the Curve in 2010 to now being key contributors in Pittsburgh.

"The experiences Pirates fans are having, our fans are certainly having that seeing former Curve players going up to Pittsburgh and helping be part of this," Curve general manager Rob Egan said. "That makes the bond between the Curve and the Pirates even stronger."

New Altoona shortstop Josh Rodriguez opened the season on the Pirates' roster as a Rule 5 draft pick, so he got first-hand experience being around the players who have amazed everyone in baseball so far.

Well, everyone but themselves.

"The confidence was there early," Rodriguez said. "There wasn't any building up to it. As soon as we got out to that field, guys were ready to play.

"It's not surprising at all," he said of the team's good record. "The talent's there."

The fact that much of that talent was right here in Altoona not long ago makes what the Pirates are doing even more special.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or

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