Greg Brown has been calling Pirates games for 20 years, since 1994, so, yes, he is coming off his first season of calling a winner. That has raised his anticipation for season No. 21 to a new level -- if that is possible for the fans' charismatic and enthusiastic link to the excitement on the field.
MLB.com: So we're a few days from the opening of another season, but the trappings have somewhat changed. What are your thoughts about this team?
Brown: I'm excited. I think a lot of it has to do with a club which, in some people's minds, outperformed the expectations last year. I really believe that if this club performs to expectations, it will be as good and perhaps even better than last year's team. Really, if you look around the diamond ... start with Andrew McCutchen. Even though he had an MVP season, he actually performed better the year before than he did last year. As Clint Hurdle has often said, there's more in McCutchen. And McCutchen knows it; as great a year as he had last season, I think he's in for a monster year.
Pedro Alvarez ... we saw in the second half of last year him coming into his own. He learned the pitchers, kinda learned about himself a lot -- especially in the playoffs. He's a very confident guy, and I think he's again going to be a 30-plus homer guy and have another 100 RBI season. The sky's the limit for Pedro -- and not only offensively, also on defense. He takes such great pride in his defense. I think he's out to win a Gold Glove, which will surprise a lot of people, but I believe he's after that.
The offense will be better at shortstop with Jordy Mercer, that's no shock. I think Neil Walker will have a better year. And Starling Marte ... had he not gotten hurt last year ... I think people forget he did come back probably sooner than he should have, and played with an injured hand. If you add on the time he missed to what he did do last year … he'll show more power and be more aggressive on the bases, and we all know about his defense.
Then there's what everybody is talking about ... [Gregory] Polanco coming into right field, eventually Jameson Taillon. Yes, this club has a chance to be better.
MLB.com: This is the first time you have an opportunity to come off a winning season. How does that affect your enthusiasm?
Brown: It is, indeed. And I am asked that a lot. People are always asking me if I'm more excited going into this year. But I have always believed that you wipe the slate clean. So, even as the losing piled up, I never let that bring me down. I've always been enthusiastic, and excited, and optimistic about the team. More realistically, going into this year the excitement level is more meaningful because of what happened last year. So, yeah, I'm excited. But I'm excited every year.
MLB.com: Does the interaction with the audience change, at least in your perception, when the team is doing well?
Brown: There's no question that the fans are as excited as they've ever been. There's no doubt about that. Anybody I run into talks about last year, of course, but the bar has been set. They won 94 games, and people want them to continue to contend year in and year out. And that's what (GM) Neal Huntington said a long time ago: He didn't want this to be a quick fix, or a one-shot deal; this team will compete and contend year in and year out, and you can certainly tell the fans' excitement level.
MLB.com: You're always enthusiastic as it is. So how do you now ratchet that up? Or do you have to?
Brown: One thing I have noticed, without a doubt, is people complimenting me about how good I was last year. I thank them and move on, then I think to myself, 'This is really interesting. I was good last year when the team won 94 games.' My excitement level hasn't changed. I get excited about good plays -- for both the Pirates and the opponents. I like baseball, I'm a baseball fan, and obviously the better they play, the more excited I and the fans get. And so -- they don't necessarily put two and two together -- they think I sounded great last year. That's great for me. I want the players to do well, I want them to win 100 games. Then I'll be even better in 2014.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.