Rooting for the underdog

Underdogs.

They capture our hearts, then almost always eventually break them.

But we love them and keep rooting for them.

There’s nothing more fun in sports than a team that keeps overachieving and exceeding our expectations.

That’s what the Pittsburgh Pirates accomplished this month.

When the baseball season started, veteran observers saw little reason to believe this would be the year the Pirates finally would post a winning record for the first time since 1992.

But the Pirates are in first place.

They even are ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, the team virtually every expert picked to win the National League Central.

What has happened? Several things.

First, the Pirates are getting great pitching. Veteran AJ. Burnett leads the National League in strikeouts.

Both he and pleasantly surprising starter Jeff Locke have an ERA of 2.83.

Closer Jason Grilli leads the league with 10 saves, accomplished by allowing just one earned run in 11 pressure-packed innings.

Yet, as impressive as the pitching has been, the guy who has been most responsible for the April ascendancy is outfielder Starling Marte.

He not only assumed the position as the leadoff hitter, but he is hitting .323. He has stolen seven bases in nine attempts.

Yet, statistics don’t begin to tell what he has done for the team.

He has brought in an extra dose of energy and enthusiasm, and that always is a good thing.

Yes, it’s far too early to get excited about any team. That’s especially true for the Pirates, who started strong last year before wilting in the summer sun.

But there’s something different about this season. This team looks like a winner.

It has captured our hearts.

Let’s hope it doesn’t break them.

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Taunting Tim

I’ve never understood the obsession some people have with Tim Tebow. He seems like a great, extremely sincere young man who gives his best every time he takes the field.

Yet, he has more detractors than supporters.

Just minutes after the story broke on Monday he had been released by the New York Jets, the following headline surfaced: Jets Release Their Sixth Best QB.

That’s so unfair.

The move does likely help former Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith in his quest not only to make the roster (as a second round draft pick, he virtually is assured of that), but also of earning playing time.

* * *

That’s Racin’

Auto racing already opened its year with its biggest event, the Daytona 500, now it’s horse racing’s turn to virtually do the same when the Kentucky Derby is contested on Saturday.

It’s like starting the year with the Super Bowl.

Contact Dave Poe at dpoe@newsandsentinel.com