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Altoona Curve

Curve players in spring training excited to be playing again after having last season taken away

Their game was taken away from them last year. Their passion. Their life’s work, by and large, since they were 4 or 5 years old.

They are ecstatic to have it back.

“No doubt,” new Curve manager Miguel Perez said. “The appreciation for the game definitely went up big time, just the fact that we didn’t play last year.”

The minor league baseball season was canceled in 2020 because of COVID, impacting many, many people around the country. Fans in cities big and small had their summer entertainment option taken away, many minor league franchises lost a lot of money, and some good people in the industry lost their jobs.

The players lost out on a year to compete, to develop and to dream about getting one step closer to the major leagues.

Curve players and minor leaguers across the nation are back at it in spring training right now, getting ready to finally play again this year. Minor league spring training was pushed back a month due to COVID protocols, so the Curve are opening up a bit later this year — on May 4.

Perez, a former Curve player, said he can see the pure joy from all the players to be back, much more so than usual during spring training.

“It’s actually great,” Perez said this week by phone from Bradenton, Fla. “I can see the excitement of guys.

“The fact that they lost a year, it got them fired up and they want to compete right away. … They want to go after the competition component of it. They actually came down ready to go, so they want to play baseball.”

Perez said he’s also seen something else from the players.

“The appreciation for the game obviously went up,” he said, “but at the same time, they realized the game has to be played the right way and you’ve got to work to get the things that you really want.

“They’re back on the field, they’re like, ‘OK, here’s what I was missing, and I’m gonna go for it.'”

There is one outstanding benefit for Curve players to having minor league spring training pushed back this year.

With Triple-A players all at the Pirates’ alternate training sites in Pittsburgh, the Double-A team is the highest affiliate left in Bradenton. That means the Curve players get to work out every day at the major league spring training venue, LECOM Park, instead of the usual minor league facility, Pirate City.

“It’s really cool that we have this type of major league environment here, the whole facilities, the stadium,” Perez said.

So much has changed since the last time the Curve played in 2019. The Eastern League no longer exists — it’s now called the Double-A Northeast League — minor league baseball was contracted to 120 affiliated teams and Major League Baseball is now in charge of the whole operation.

From the Curve’s perspective, they are still affiliated with the Pirates — which isn’t expected to change any time soon, if ever — but the Buccos have new people in place in their front office who will bring different ideas and strategies on how to go about things in the minor leagues.

There will be a great deal of focus in the coming years on what new Pirates general manager Ben Cherington and new farm director John Baker have in store for the minor leagues and Curve, in particular.

The Curve were highly successful from a competitive standpoint under the previous front office — winning EL titles in 2010 and 2017 — so we’ll have to wait and see how things go with the new guys in charge.

Perez likes what he sees from the team he expects to bring to Altoona next month, so the tradition of winning could be continuing at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“This will definitely be a very competitive team,” Perez said. “It’s going to be a combination of everything — talent, the fact that some guys are a year older, and we also have young guys coming up that are so talented.

“I’m excited to see this team.”

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