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Marauders enjoy their winning ways

BRADENTON

From the ticket prices to the promotions to the quirky games between innings, minor league baseball is the antithesis of its major league counterpart.

Here’s another glaring difference — in the minors, winning isn’t everything. A fat record pales in comparison to how many players a team has sent up the chain.

The Bradenton Marauders know this. But they know something else, too — winning is habitual and addictive, regardless of where you do it. It has to start somewhere.

And the Marauders, the high Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, have won plenty during their first season in Bradenton — they began their four-game series Thursday with the Tampa Yankees armed with a 3 1/2-game lead in the Florida State League’s South Division.

The Florida State League’s season is split into two 70-game halves, and the math is simple: Win the first half and you’re in the playoffs, no matter how well you play beginning with game No. 71.

“It’s definitely the talk of the clubhouse every night,” said outfielder Quincy Latimore.

Development is still the key. Guys like Latimore are looking to get to Double-A Altoona, Pa., one of two stops separating the Marauders from the ultimate goal — cracking the big team in Pittsburgh. And it’s begun in Bradenton, which is no longer home to pitchers Bryan Morris and Diego Moreno, both of whom are now in Altoona and wearing the colors of the Curve.

But in an organization like Pittsburgh’s, where the big club hasn’t sniffed a winning season since 1992, cultivating a winning culture is important, too. Teach the guys how to win in Bradenton, and they’ll take that to Altoona. Then Triple-A Indianapolis.

“Eventually, as that builds, we bring what everybody wants,” manager P.J. Forbes said at the beginning of the season, “and that’s a World Series championship back to Pittsburgh.”

Which is why the Marauders are talking winning, even though some of them hope to be up north by the time the FSL playoffs roll around in September.

“P.J. talks about that a lot, learning how to win here so we can win in Pittsburgh,” Latimore said. “Win here, win in Altoona, win in Indianapolis, and then you’ve got a winning group of guys so when we get (to Pittsburgh), we know how to win.”

Forbes piloted the Lynchburg Hillcats, the Pirates’ previous high Single-A club, to a Carolina League championship last year. Now he’s got a talented group down here, one that is leading the FSL in hitting and made a statement last week by going to Clearwater and sweeping a four-game set from the Threshers.

The pitching has been effective, and the Marauders’ offense has been as diverse and dangerous as Forbes advertised.

Most importantly, the players have the right idea — they all want to be major leaguers, but they also want to win, too. They’re talking about clinching the first half title, about making the playoffs. And then they’re talking about taking that winning attitude and spreading it all throughout the organization.

Winning has to start somewhere. And years from now, if everyone stays healthy and everyone keeps progressing, maybe today’s Marauders can say it all began in Bradenton.

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