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Pittsburgh Pirates Ready to Take Next Step in 2014 Season

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PITTSBURGH, PA. -

The storylines are plentiful with this year's Pittsburgh Pirates team. Maybe it's MVP Andrew McCutchen or it could be the fact that the Pirates are coming off their first playoff appearance in 21 years. Regardless, the buzz is back in the Steel City, and its fans have come to expect a winner.

"I think they're going to be good. A lot of people think they're not going to be winning 94 games, but that's rare anyways. Last year was a rare experience -- 94 wins would've gotten us at the top of the division, not a wild card. So I think we're going to be okay," Pirates fan Scott Gordon said.

Expecting a winning team has become the new norm in Pittsburgh. After all, the Pirates return a majority of last year's team; a team that grabbed the attention of everyone across the nation.

"I think there's a lot of excitement going on. I think we can have excitement. There's obviously butterflys, just because you're eager to get going. I think that everyone is feeling it," Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez said.

"Oh man, I'm excited. The other day I compared it to the Wild Card game. During the Wild Card game I was nervous. I'm just really excited today. I'm ready to get the year going. It's going to be a good year," Pirates relief pitcher Bryan Morris replied.

PNC Park was looking better than ever on Monday morning, as the sun shined down and temperatures reached the upper 50's. The words 'Opening Day' could be found everywhere around the stadium. But it was more than that -- Monday's game felt like Opening Day, just ask ESPN Senior Writer Tim Kirkjian.

"This is my 35th Opening Day as a writer," ESPN Baseball Analyst Tim Kirkjian said. "I've done this every year since 1979, and I don't care how corny this is, it's still special today as it was the first time I did it. It's a real signal, no matter how cliche it sounds, that spring is on the way, along with summer vacation. I'm glad Spring Training is over, as much as I love it. It's time for the games to count, and they count today."

Whether it's your 35th Opening Day or your first, the chance to watch baseball again offers a feeling like none other. Especially now that the Pirates are a contender in Major League Baseball.

"I'm a huge fan. I'm hoping for the World Series. They can get there if they try. They've got it," Pirates fan George Mehler said.

"They're going to go pretty far, I think," Pirates fan Lauren Mehler laughed. "They're going to the World Series, like he said."

"I know even during those losing years when I was walking around Pittsburgh and talked to people, they just wanted the team to be good again. They weren't angry, they were just hopeful -- and now the hope has returned," Kirkjian said.

The Chicago Cubs and Pirates met in Pittsburgh on Opening Day last year as well.

The game was an absolute pitchers duel until the bottom of the 10th inning when Pittsburgh native Neil Walker ended the game with one swing of the bat.

Walker sent a 3-2 pitch over the Clemente Wall in right field, giving the Pirates their first walk-off win on Opening Day since the 1960's.

Pittsburgh beat Chicago in 10 innings, 1-0.

"A 1-0 win at home in front of our fans, who brought their A-game today. No, you can't write a better script. Especially the hometown kid wins it for us. It's awesome," Pirates catcher Russell Martin said.

"Yeah, we have to give it up to these fans. It's been since the end of last season, they've been on fire for us. It's a lot of fun," Pirates relief pitcher mark Melancon said.

"We definitely turned the page. As you can see, you can't hear any music being played in the background. Everybody has pretty much left and gone home, or working out or showering -- whatever that it is. I just told Russell, just act like you've been here before. We have been. It's game one and it's great that we won it. We need to show up Wednesday and get going again," Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said.

Major League Baseball's Opening Day stands for much more than just baseball -- it also means Spring is on its way. Meanwhile, Pirates fans are hoping their team can match those warmer temperatures, all the way into another postseason run.