Kovacevic: Forget PEDs and applaud Pedro
Major League Baseball does, indeed, have a problem. But it isn't Alex Rodriguez. It isn't Ryan Braun. It isn't the Biogenesis scandal that's expected to burst all over the sport like a festering sore as soon as Monday.
No, in the larger scope, it's something else entirely.
It's that a 26-year-old still-fledgling with the sweetest power stroke you'll ever see, and he's barely become a story beyond our region.
Baseball, meet Pedro Manuel Alvarez.
He's pounding the ball with a proficiency and power that used to be truly special before the game was infected by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Braun and whatever other frauds get brought down by Biogenesis: He's got 27 home runs, most in the National League, which puts him on a comfortable pace for 40.
It isn't 50.
It isn't the Babe's eternal 60.
It isn't Roger Maris' magical 61, now unfairly buried beneath asterisks of a different breed.
And no, it sure isn't Bonds' embarrassing 73 at age 37 and hat size 37 billion.
This is real.
“As real as it gets,” Gaby Sanchez, another power type, was telling me after the Pirates roiled the Rockies, 5-1, on Sunday. “If you break it down, you see all the torque he gets into his swing. That starts with those big legs. He generates a lot of power down there. Add to that the hand-eye he has, and you've got the torque, the bat head coming with that kind of speed ... that's where it comes from.”
Better believe it.
I believed it when Tim Corbin, Pedro's college coach at Vanderbilt, once told me, “This is a kid who can hit the ball over any fence.”
I believed it when Manny Sanguillen, Willie Stargell's teammate, spied Pedro's first cuts in Bradenton four springs ago and declared, “I've seen that swing before. That's Willie.”
This is what baseball should talk about.
What baseball should talk about is Chris Davis of the Orioles, atop the majors with 40 home runs. Or Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista and others homering at a remarkable pace, yet reasonable enough not to merit any suspicion. Or Yoenis Cespedes, who hits the ball so far it has to carry a passport.
Where is the celebration of these players and their numbers?
Where is the hype to go with fairly adjusted expectations?
What baseball should talk about is Pedro in the way Clint Hurdle so colorfully described Pedro's three-run shot a week ago that traveled arc-free over the Clemente Wall.
“That was hit as hard as any ball I've seen,” the manager begun telling the tale as only he can. “When I saw that, I thought of Frank Howard hitting a home run when I was a kid watching TV. My dad and I were sitting there, I think he hit it one-handed, hooked it down the line … the ball was out in two blinks of an eye. I said, ‘Dad, how can a man do that?' ‘Well, that's a big man, son. A big, strong man.' Pedro hit his ball, and off the bat I'm thinking, ‘OK, he's gonna be on second.' I watched the center fielder go and kind of stop, the fans are getting up, and I'm going, ‘Wait a minute' ... and the ball's out of the park. It seemed as if the ball was hit as high as it landed. It carried that plane. Physically, I know that's impossible, but it seemed to happen.”
Then Hurdle threw in this: “He has as much raw power as any player I've worked with or seen. Pure, raw power.”
Look, I'm not so naive to think doping's out of baseball — or any sport — and the list of players that emerges from Biogenesis will indeed be sobering. But at some point, man, the focus has to get back on amazing scenes like the latest one here Sunday with another A.J. Burnett lovefest and another Russell Martin clutch special in front of another capacity crowd. PNC Park is pure joy these days, and I'll bet other places are, too.
I follow national baseball media on Twitter and, to check the timeline of late, you'd never know anything's going on except for A-Rod, a broken, disgraced 38-year-old mired in a legal catfight with the American League East's fourth-place team.
As if that matters to anyone outside New York.
As if a huge percentage of the drama isn't the simple result of self-immolating, angst-ridden adjectives.
Go ahead, Bud Selig. Throw the guy out, parade him through the streets, do your worst, so that everyone can document it underneath moonlanding-font headlines.
But when it's done, ladies and gents of the national press, come on over to Pittsburgh and bring a notepad. A clean notepad. Might get you inspired for what should be baseball's next great chapter.