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Tough Love

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Philosopher bell hooks wrote at length about love in her book, All About Love, New Visions. The crux of her argument is that "love" is frequently misused as a noun when it is a verb -- an action verb, in fact. If you truly love somebody, in other words, you don't merely feel

love; it is evident in every deed.

So when aggrieved Pirates fan Sean Lucas shows up to denounce his team outside PNC Park on June 30, he'll be doing it out of love.

"It's going to prove a point," Lucas says of his plans to spearhead a protest before the match-up with the Washington Nationals. The demonstration, he says, will show that fans "care about this organization and its tradition."

These days, it seems like they're the only ones who do.

Most of us don't need a grand romantic gesture to feel loved. Making sure there is cream for the morning coffee is romantic enough. But for Pittsburgh fans, there isn't cream for the coffee ... and the coffee is instant decaf anyways.

To put just a little more sugar in the fans' bowls, the organization might have had the sense to protect prospects like Chris Shelton in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, instead of letting these two promising players get away.

In fact, it would be nice if fans could see one of the team's many high draft picks blossom in a Pirates uniform. If they could see what Detroit Tigers fans got to see on June 12, when pitcher Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter -- including a 102 mph pitch in the ninth inning. Verlander is the type of homegrown success story the Pirates could use: He was drafted by the Tigers in 2004, brought up through the farm system ... and then actually proved his worth for the team that chose him.

Lucas' indignation reached its peak with the baseball draft earlier this month, when the Pirates were roundly pilloried for passing up a top prospect, catcher Matt Wieters, for a discount on pitcher Daniel Moskos.

"When they passed up the catcher it was a real slap in the face to everybody," Lucas says.

So he did what any reasonable fan would do. He crafted a press release and sent it out to news outlets. His plans for a protest have taken on a life of their own, he says: "I didn't think it would pick up much steam, but it's just ballooned." When I spoke to Lucas on June 14, he indicated that based on the response he's gotten, he expects around 2,500 people for the protest.

According to the USA Today Baseball Salary Database, the Pirates are spending roughly $38 million on payroll this year. The Cleveland Indians, by contrast, are spending about $61 million and sitting atop a very good division at 38-26. With a payroll of $52 million -- just $14 million more than the Pirates are paying -- the Arizona Diamondbacks have posted a winning percentage of .561, one game back of the Padres.

The Pirates have an advantage these teams don't: The Bucs play in the laughable National League Central division. The team would be more competitive -- maybe even a legitimate playoff competitor -- if it spent about $10 to $12 million more, and spent it wisely. Taking this lame division would probably require little more than one more decent pitcher and one more good bat in the lineup.

It's hard to know what effect, if any, the fans' protest will have. The owners hold all the cards, and they've let it be known that the payroll will be cut if attendance drops. Don't want to pony up $30 to watch a losing team? Fine. We give you a team that loses even more.

The good news for the ownership is that some fans still think the Pirates are worth fighting for. The protests may embarrass the Nutting family and Kevin McClatchy ... or they may not notice at all. But the Pirates should consider this: Lucas and the fans who join him care enough to make their dissatisfaction known. Soon, this team may not matter to them even that much. And then the Pirates will be in real trouble.

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