First Pitch: Paprika

I’ve written a few more personal themed First Pitch articles this week, tying them into baseball development. Yesterday, I wrote about how I shut everything in my life down in 2019, aiming to improve my health.

During this process, I was considering a change. The Pirates were bleeding fans, this site was bleeding readers as a result, and I didn’t see a way back to doing what we used to do on here, especially circa 2015-17.

After talking with and hearing from several readers who ran small businesses of their own, I came up with a few scenarios of how I would move forward.

1. Continue Pirates Prospects, as a scaled down version, aiming for quality over quantity with articles.

2. Somehow expand my baseball writing from only covering the prospects in the Pirates’ system.

3. Find a new job, and hopefully keep Pirates Prospects alive in case the Pirates ever see their fanbase return.

A few months after starting this thought process, the Pirates had replaced Neal Huntington with Ben Cherington. That was enough for me to opt to keep Pirates Prospects running, as I felt the organization would be turning a corner.

Cherington’s work in boosting the farm system since then has me feeling like I made the right call there.

However, I still needed something to support Pirates Prospects in the down time. In my experience the last time around, the interest in prospect coverage dried up when the Pirates became competitive at the MLB level. The interest didn’t return when it became obvious that the Pirates wouldn’t be winning. That interest in the farm system is back, but I expect it to be replaced with exclusive interest in the MLB team when the Pirates start winning again at the MLB level.

Expanding out from Pirates Prospects is a challenge. I can’t just cover another organization in the same way. It’s a full time job following this organization so closely, and running the site that goes with it.

I ultimately came up with the idea of this site, Pittsburgh Baseball Network.

The rest? Well, it’s still mostly yet to come.

But, it’s starting to arrive.

[Japanese Breakfast]

Lucidity came slowly
I awoke from dreams of untying a great knot
It unraveled like a braid into what seemed were thousands
Of separate strands of fishing line
Attached to coarse behavior, it flowed
A calm it urged, what else is here?

Pittsburgh Baseball Network was formed by largely splitting the old Pirates Prospects into three different sites, which are displayed on the site menu above. The goal from here is to eventually expand into college and prep baseball in the Pittsburgh area.

There was a challenge. The pandemic hit in early 2020, delaying the launch of PBN. How could I launch a new site writing about baseball if there was no baseball to write about?

Baseball returned by the end of July, and PBN launched on July 31, 2020. However, the minor leagues did not return, and our main feature — Pirates Prospects — had to be delayed.

Furthermore, Ben Cherington was doing absolutely nothing to rebuild the farm system at the time, outside of the pre-season Starling Marte trade that brought in Liover Peguero and Brennan Malone, and a few minor moves for international bonus pool space. That money was used to sign Po-Yu Chen.

In hindsight, the moves were a stealth way to add talent, though they left a lot of concern on my end about the future of the farm system, and the future of Pirates Prospects.

[Japanese Breakfast]

How’s it feel to be at the center of magic
To linger in tones and words?
I opened the floodgates and found
No water, no current, no river, no rush

I had a bit of an identity crisis in 2020. I didn’t know what I was. A sports writer, like my job of the last 14 years said? A business man, like my degree says?

As with everything in my life, the answer came from music.

Allow me to tell you about Michelle Zauner, for a moment.

Michelle Zauner is known to most as “Japanese Breakfast”, the name of her musical act. Her third album, “Jubilee” was released this year, and the album, along with the song “Posing For Cars” are among my favorites of the year.

Zauner has been busy with more than just her band. She wrote a best selling memoir, “Crying in H Mart.” She also did the soundtrack for an open world PC game called Sable, which was just released this month. I’d love to hear reviews from anyone who has played it.

That’s a lot in a one year span. Zauner is obviously a hard worker, and all of her work comes across with the same high quality. Above all, she’s an artist, not limited to composing music, and not limited to one style of writing.

I decided in 2020 that I am a writer. An artist.

An artist, if you will, not bound to just writing about sports.

I’m known as a sports writer for now. That’s almost exclusively what I work on now. You just haven’t seen my future work in other fields. That work will start to be released, in addition to Pirates Prospects, in future years.

That will help to keep Pirates Prospects running for the long-term.

But, what about Pirates Prospects in the short-term?

[Japanese Breakfast]

How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers
To captivate every heart?
Projecting your visions to strangers
Who feel it, who listen, who linger on every word

Oh, it’s a rush

It wasn’t until the Josh Bell trade that I saw a ray of hope for the Pirates and their future. I think it was the same for most people who follow their farm system.

Granted, I had heard from players all year that things were changing in the system. It’s still difficult to get an accurate read on that with no baseball. And, with a relaxed approach to rebuilding in 2020, the future of the Pirates wasn’t looking good.

The Bell trade came. Then Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon were traded.

During this same period, I decided to make the 10th Anniversary Prospect Guide more of a real book, with a running story throughout, while still including reports on every player in the system.

I had more fun writing that book than any previous project on this site.

It was during this process that the writer label was cemented.

If I am an artist, mostly of the writing variety, then Pirates Prospects is my band.

Michelle Zauner is known as Japanese Breakfast.

You can call me Pirates Prospects.

Every year, the Prospect Guide is the latest album.

Of course, Pirates Prospects has never been just me. I’m just the lead singer, of the Brendon Urie variety, and this band isn’t going away as long as I’m still writing.

[Japanese Breakfast]

But alone, it feels like dying
All alone, I feel so much

I think Pirates Prospects can survive over the long-term. The 2020 season was an extreme test for that statement, and I appreciate all of your support getting us from there to where we are now.

Where are we now?

I just wrapped up two weeks on the road, getting reports on players in Altoona, Greensboro, and other areas of the system. The first of those reports went up during the trip with an article on Michael Burrows. Today, I posted an article on Canaan Smith-Njigba.

My approach with all of these articles is to treat them like a craft brewer would treat a beer release. Constantly working on it, adding to it, adjusting, until the point when it starts to taste ready. Rather than trying to force an article daily, the focus will be crafting quality articles the moment they are ready.

There are a few that are almost ready, following that Smith-Njigba feature.

While I’m excited about Pirates Prospects, and while I’m looking forward to finishing up those articles, I want all of this to be more.

When I say that Pirates Prospects can survive, it means I can do this for the long-term.

I want more than that. My favorite part of Pirates Prospects in the past has been giving other writers an opportunity. To continue that trend, Pittsburgh Baseball Network comes into play.

The goal of Pittsburgh Baseball Network will be to collaborate with and elevate other independent writers in this city.

My work on PBN will be more of the creative and experimental variety. It will be very similar to what you’ve seen from First Pitch lately. Ultimately, that’s just me opening my brain onto a WordPress screen for an hour each day, and seeing what flows out. I’ll be using this as a warm up for my Pirates Prospects writing.

The simple way to think of the two sites: Pirates Prospects is my band, PBN is my record label.

In both cases, the focus will be on entertaining daily articles, and writing books.

Above all, I know why you come to this site. You want to learn about the Pirates’ farm system, but you also want an escape. You want a break, where you can dig into something that’s ultimately meaningless, with a community that has a built-in shared interest, while all of you are taking a break from the meaningful.

Being able to give you a place for that break is my meaningful thing.

This is the part where I push the products we have, and ask for your support to keep all of this going.

In the PBN Shop, we’ve got our remaining inventory of beer glasses, t-shirts, and the 10th Anniversary Prospect Guide. There are less than two dozen each of the shirts and glasses. Your support in purchasing these products will not only help keep things funded over the offseason, but will allow for expansion heading into next season, to allow for more writers on PBN.

Pirates Prospects will revert back to a subscription site next week, and subscribing to that site is the biggest way you can help out. For now, we’ve got some great products available in the PBN Shop, and appreciate any support you can throw our way as we continue to work hard to bring you daily reads on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system.

Daily Links

**Scouting the Statline Player Comps for Pirates Prospects

**Prospect Watch: FCL Pirate Teams Are Done, Greensboro Clinches

**Pirates Drop 1-0 Pitchers’ Duel to Reds; Still in Search of Their First Sweep

**WATCH: Pirate Prospect O’Neil Cruz Smashes a 462 Foot Home Run

**Game Recap: Pirates Get Sweep (No, Not Really)

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: September 16th, Stargell Debuts

**Card of the Day: 1963 Topps Willie Stargell

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