PITTSBURGH – Hopefully, you didn’t buy any tickets for Thursday night’s game in Altoona.
It figured to be a dandy with Paul Skenes scheduled to pitch for the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate against Harrisburg, a Washington Nationals’ farm club. It would have been a matchup between Skenes, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, against Harrisburg outfielder Dylan Crews, the No. 2 pick.
Considering the two helped lead LSU to the College World Series title in June, it would have been great theatre to see them square off for the first time as pros.
Alas, Skenes vs. Crews won’t happen this season.
The Pirates placed Skenes on the developmental list at Altoona on Tuesday, ending his first professional season after 6.2 innings spread over five starts at three different minor-league levels. The Pirates were also cognizant that Skenes pitched 122.2 innings for LSU this spring and felt his overall workload was enough for one season for a 21-year-old.
General manager Ben Cherington said the move was made on the recommendation of the Pirates’ player development department.
“They looked at Paul like he’s checked all the boxes that we wanted him to check post-draft as a pro in 2023,” Cherington said. “They made the recommendation of, ‘Hey, this is good. We’re good for this year. Let’s focus on a full offseason and full 2024.'”
Nevertheless, the Pirates’ decision to put the kibosh on a Skenes-Crews matchup is disappointing.
Yes, professional sports are about winning first and foremost. The Pirates feel in the long run that ending Skenes’ season will pay off in the future as they won’t risk him potentially getting injured because of fatigue-related reasons.
However, pro sports are also about entertainment. And not just shooting T-shirts into the crowd.
Fans like attractions and Skenes is undoubtedly an attraction.
Altoona set an attendance record when Skenes made his Double-A debut on Aug. 26. The franchise very well could have broken that record Thursday night with Crews in town.
And the Pirates have blown a great marketing opportunity by not having Skenes make one appearance with the big-league club before putting an end to his season.
If Skenes worked an inning or two Thursday, he would have been in line to pitch next Tuesday against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park. It would be a lot of fun to have Skenes start that game even if he was limited to only one inning.
Skenes could have gotten an idea of how he stacks up against major-league hitters. He also could have benefitted from being around the Pirates for a day or two to get a glimpse of life in the big leagues.
The experience surely would have advanced Skenes’ development at least a little bit.
Just as importantly, the Pirates could have drawn the spotlight for a night at a time of year when most sports fans’ attention has turned to football and the Steelers in particular.
Attendance was just 9,324 Tuesday night at PNC Park when the Pirates lost to the Milwaukee Brewers. And that’s with the Brewers leading the National League Central.
There will likely be even fewer people in the stands next Tuesday when the Nationals, who are in last place in the NL East, are in town. Conversely, it is not unrealistic to think that the Pirates would have had a crowd of at least 25,000 if Skenes had pitched.
While I certainly respect the Pirates’ decision to shut down Skenes, baseball is supposed to be fun. And it would be much more fun to see Skenes take the mound than anyone else on the Pirates’ staff.