HARRISBURG - For the second time in team history, the Curve are headed to the Eastern League Championship series.
The players Altoona relied on to get them to this year's championship series may not be as dominant at the Class AA level as several players on the Curve's only other squad to qualify for the title series in 2004, but they have something just as valuable -extreme confidence and a winning mentality.
"One of the things we always have is confidence," Curve third baseman Josh Harrison said. "When you have 25 guys who exude confidence it makes it that much easier to make it to the championship. This is what we've been working on since February."
In 2004, Brad Eldred had 17 homers and 60 RBIs in only 147 at bats, Nate McLouth and Chris Duffy both hit well over .300, and Jeff Keppinger hit .334 in 82 games for Altoona before being traded midseason.
A quick look over the current Curve's lineup reveals nothing that stands out. The team was next-to-last in the Eastern League with just 80 home runs in the regular season, and team MVP Hector Gimenez led the team with a .305 batting average.
But the top four in Altoona's lineup Saturday (Chase d'Arnaud, Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Matt Hague) all played for the Pittsburgh Pirates Class A Lynchburg team last season that won a championship.
The Lynchburg alums have carried that momentum over to Class AA and never stopped winning.
The Curve jumped out to a huge lead in the Eastern League's Western Division this season holding the best record at all levels of professional baseball for most of the early part of the season.
Altoona faced almost no adversity until a midseason slump that saw Harrisburg, Bowie and Akron begin to inch back into the race.
The Curve, however, never let a bit of doubt creep into their minds. Altoona swept a doubleheader at home against Akron to basically eliminate the Aeros and cruised to a division title.
In the Western Division series against Harrisburg, Altoona once again demonstrated its winning mentality when it dropped the first game of the series and trailed during Game 2 before coming back to win, 6-4, and sweeping the final three games of the series.
The talent of the 2004 team did not end up helping the Pirates, but the confidence of this year's group of Curve players just might do so.
There is a thin line between winning and losing baseball games. Just ask Jim Negrych, Miles Durham and Gimenez. All three started Saturday, and Durham hit a three-run homer to start the Curve's scoring. Each player was also a major cog in last year's Curve squad which finished with the worst record in team history.
"This year's team is never out of a game, and we have a great ability to make a comeback and stay confident," Negrych said. "Last year's team was talented, but this year's team is extremely talented, and our pitching staff is extremely deep. I'd say the confidence is definitely a factor."
Perhaps if enough of this year's Curve team makes it to Pittsburgh together, they can have the same effect on talented players like Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker that they did on players like Negrych, Durham and Gimenez at the Class AA level.
A boost of confidence would certainly be refreshing in Pittsburgh.