YOUNGSTOWN - The Pittsburgh Pirates might have ended last season under the .500-mark for the 20th straight year, but there is a wind of change in the air around the organization.
That breath could be sensed on Thursday as the Pirates Caravan made a stop in Youngstown at the Butler Institute of American Art. The change of attitude could be sensed by more than the 100 fans that packed the Butler, but by the players and front office members that came to meet and greet with the fans in the Mahoning Valley.
"I think people are really starting to understand that we have something very special going on with this group of guys," second baseman Neil Walker said. "We have a good nucleus, a good core of guys that have been here for a few years now.
"We are now bringing in pieces now, not a lot of guys, but pieces here and there, that are going to compliment what we already have."
Joining Walker on Thursday was third baseman Pedro Alvarez, relief pitcher Bryan Morris, general manager Neil Huntington, first base coach Rick Sofield and longtime broadcaster Steve Blass.
"Last year when I was here, we were talking about the future. Now we can talk about what's going on now with the Pirates," Huntington said.
The 2011-12 season started off great for the Pirates, as the squad was in contention for a playoff spot well into the month of August. However, a downfall in September left the Pirates finishing with a 79-83 mark, fourth in the National League, Central Division.
"I think the last month is going to get magnified because obviously it's the last month," Walker said.
"If it would have happened in the first month of the season, and we still ended up with what we ended up with, I think people would be looking at it a little bit differently. I think the young guys, myself included, learned that sometimes less is more. Sometimes when things aren't going so well you don't have to do more. You just have to keep doing your job. We just have to continue to work hard and stick together."
While Alvarez agrees with teammate, he went a step further saying the success the Pirates had in 2012 should help them finally get over the hump in 2013.
"We just have to find a way to keep the highs going for longer," Alvarez said. "It's obviously easier said than done, last season is indicative of that. The good thing is we keep gaining some experience and we can carry it over to the next year and years to come."