By DAVE MORRISON
WHEELING - Pittsburgh Pirates' shortstop Clint Barmes can only smile when he thinks of the team's run to the postseason last year.
After 21 years of missing the playoffs, the Pirates, buoyed by a resurgence of fans and a talented roster of what many thought were consummate overachievers, beat the Cincinnati Reds in a one-game play-in postseason game at PNC Park.
That the Pirates lost to St. Louis in a five-game series couldn't dampen a season that saw the team win 94 games in the regular season.
Pirates fever had caught on. "Raise the Jolly Roger" and "Zoltan" were synonymous with the Pirates as pennant fever caught on in Pittsburgh.
"That was the most fun I've ever had in the game," Barmes said Saturday afternoon during the Miracle League of the Ohio Valley baseball camp at the Miracle League Field at the J.B Chambers Youth Sports Complex. "There is nothing like playoff atmosphere in baseball, and that was something I'll never forget. Not even Opening Day can match the electricity of postseason baseball."
Now, he wants to do it again.
Though currently on the disabled list, Barmes was scheduled to meet with Hurdle to discuss returning to the active roster before Saturday's game with the San Diego Padres. He is hopeful of returning by the middle of next week.
"Without a doubt, this team can definitely make another playoff run," Barmes said. "I have faith in every one of those guys in the clubhouse, and I'm sure they would say the same thing."
Seven hours before they were scheduled to play the Padres on Saturday, Barmes and a few teammates, including pitchers Charlie Morton and Stolmy Pimentel and first baseman Ike Davis were in Wheeling for the Miracle League event. Bench coach Jeff Banister, third base coach Nick Leyva, team president Frank Coonelly and team owner Bob Nutting were on hand as well, as well as the Pirate Parrot and a couple of the racing pierogies.
Barmes instructed participating area local players in batting. At one point his son Wyatt, 7, who accompanied his dad so they could spend some extra time together, took a couple of mighty hacks off the tee.
When told his bat speed resembled that of his teammate, four-time all-star and reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen, Barmes laughed.
"Right, I think I'm going to have Cutch work with him on his hitting," Barmes said.
Barmes said he and his teammates enjoy getting out in the community, especially at events like the one Saturday in Wheeling.
"There isn't a guy out here who doesn't enjoy doing this," Barmes said. "It's a chance for us to give back to the area."
Davis, acquired in an early season trade with the New York Mets, agreed.
"I was fortunate enough to be an athlete and to play this game and go out and compete," Davis said. "Just to be able to come out and share the game with some kids who might not be able to do that means an awful lot to me."
Many fans were not happy that the team choose to stay pat at the trade deadline, despite the fact that the team is winning.
Coonelly understands some of the frustration.
"Absolutely, I appreciate fan opinions on moves," Coonelly said. "To me, it's a matter of trust. I think we have developed that trust with a lot of the fan base. What we are trying to do is put a a contending team out there on the field. That is our goal. We feel like we are in position to make another push at the playoffs."
The numbers have been reflective of such, especially after a slow start to the season, which saw the Pirates at eight games under .500 at one point.
The team is 13-7 since the All-Star break, and if the season ended today, the Pirates would be one of the National League wild card teams. The team has won three straight and is 17-4 at PNC in its last 21 games.
All that, despite losing the face of the organization in McCutchen, outstanding second baseman Neil Walker, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Starling Marte and top-of-the-rotation starter Gerrit Cole at various points in the last month. McCutchen, who suffered a fractured rib Sunday, has missed the last five games, and neither Walker or McCutchen were in Saturday's starting lineup. Cole is on a rehab assignment that was recently extended another game.
"Our mentality is 'the next man up,'" Coonelly said. "What (manager) Clint (Hurdle) and his guys have done is impressive, especially with a short bench. I think we have gotten quality starts from our pitching staff in five of the last six games. When you do that, you are going to win games."
Davis senses it in the clubhouse.
"It's a good team atmosphere, a good winning team atmosphere," Davis said. "I've been on teams that had a good atmosphere but this is also a winning team. It's been a lot of fun. We really get along in the clubhouse and that is a big part of it. We enjoy being together. We have a lot of fun and we come to play every day."
Can a repeat performance be in the books as the summer rolls into fall?
"The talent is definitely in place, and we have gotten good play by whoever is called upon," Davis said. "Travis (Snider) and Gaby (Sanchez) have stepped up and JHay (Josh Harrison) has been ridiculous with the way he has played, wherever we need him. And Jordy Mercer has been swinging a hot bat."
Barmes, meanwhile, was short and sweet.
"I wouldn't pick against us," he said.