The bracket is filled out, and the highlighters are out and ready. Yes, I am that confident -- borderline cocky, I guess you could say -- that I've got a heck of a March Madness bracket built this year.
I've done my homework, compared the RPIs and SOSs and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning back in November to watch all the games of the Maui Invitational. In other words, I've prepared.
OK, OK. At least give me until the end of the day on Thursday before bringing me back down to earth and reminding me that I have never won money in a bracket pool ever. Not even second-place money for that matter. Or third. But that doesn't mean that every year I can't hope from Sunday night to Thursday afternoon that I am a college basketball connoisseur.
I've still got three days to make some changes, but for now, I've got a Final Four consisting of Texas, UNC, Kansas and Xavier. I am well aware of the dangers of putting that in print, knowing that I could be asking for ridicule. But hey, on the off chance that I do win some cash this year, this way I can say, "I told you so."
Have fun filling out your own brackets, and while you debate which No. 12 seed is going to take down a No. 5 seed this year (cough ... Villanova over Vanderbilt ... cough), here's your weekly Pirates mailbag to provide a distraction.
I hate to kick this horse again, but why isn't Sean Burnett being looked at more seriously as a replacement for Zach Duke in the rotation? I, too, believe that Duke still possesses the potential to get back to where he was, but you can't ignore performance forever. Wasn't it a little early to pull the trigger and tag Burnett for the bullpen?
-- Bo M., Beaumont, Texas
There are a couple of things worth noting here. One, the Pirates are set on having Duke start in the rotation, and he hasn't done anything this spring to deserve being yanked out at this point. Obviously, performance will dictate if he stays there, but in the meantime, management isn't making that spot up for grabs. And at this point, if it were up for the taking, I'd say Phil Dumatrait would have the inside spot to take that starting slot.
Coming into Spring Training, Burnett fully knew that the odds of being able to crack that rotation weren't in his favor. The spots were already taken, and the competition around him was vast anyway. As a result, he was actually the one who proposed a move to the bullpen early on. General manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell agreed, and as a result, that's why you see Burnett pitching an inning every few days.
Ultimately, Burnett made the switch because he saw openings in the bullpen that weren't there in the rotation. And if the season were to open today, I'd have to believe Burnett would be under strong consideration to make the big league roster because of his decision to take this route.
Have you heard about Ryan Doumit's health so far this spring? If he stays healthy all season, do you see him getting more playing time?
-- Tory R., Moses Lake, Wash.
I know you all may think I've been relaxing at the beach for the past month, but amazingly, I've put in a little time actually working. So not only have I heard about Doumit's health, but I've been able to watch a healthy Doumit practice and play just about every day since I've been down here.
There's no doubt that Doumit came into camp in much better physical shape than he was last year. He made it a goal to lose weight in hopes that doing so would help him eliminate the pesky injuries that had caused him to earn the "injury-prone" label. As a result of his improved physique and conditioning, so far, Doumit is completely healthy.
Have a question about the Pirates?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Pirates beat reporter Tom Singer for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
To answer the second part of your question, yes, I do think Doumit will see more playing time this year. Obviously it will help if he's healthy, which was the biggest hindrance last season. But I'd expect Doumit to also see significant time behind the plate in what could become somewhat of a platoon situation with Ronny Paulino. The organization loves Doumit's bat and wants to see it as much as possible.
Oh, and don't worry -- I've only seen the beach twice.
With all the hype leading into Spring Training with who is going to fill the center-field spot, why is it that Nyjer Morgan has had more playing time than Nate McLouth, and is management going to give McLouth a fair shot?
-- Heather R., Pittsburgh
If I've done my math right, as of Monday, Morgan has appeared in just two more games than McLouth so far this spring. And don't forget that McLouth was unavailable for four games early in the Spring Training schedule because of tightness in his right hamstring.
In other words, don't read too much into the fact that Morgan has had more at-bats than McLouth up to this point. Huntington told me over the weekend that he wouldn't be surprised if the center-field battle comes down to the last day of Spring Training since neither Morgan nor McLouth has separated himself up to this point just yet.
However, even though this is always dangerous, if I had to make a projection right now, I'd guess that we'll see McLouth in center field on Opening Day in Atlanta.
I would really like to see Morgan in center, McLouth in left and the two bat first and second in the order, with Freddy Sanchez third. What are the odds of this happening?
-- Michael H., Grove City, Pa.
Can I ask where Jason Bay is supposed to go then, Michael? As long as Bay is with the Pirates and is healthy, he will be the starter in left. No questions there. Right now, there is room for either McLouth or Morgan in the everyday lineup -- not both.
Now, you can bet on whoever the winner of that center-field battle is to be batting first. I'd agree with you on that one. And when it comes to having Sanchez batting third in the order, I'd say the odds are pretty good there as well, though there remains a possibility of moving the second baseman up into the No. 2 hole.
What can you tell us about McKechnie Field and the features of the ballpark? We northerners who will be making the trek to Bradenton, Fla., for Spring Training need some info about the Pirates' spring home.
-- Seth B., Lisbon, Ohio
Well, first off, I can tell you that the weather is warm down here. And really, at this point, what more should a northerner need to hear?
In case you need more convincing, here's a little bit of information on McKechnie Field: The park is one of the oldest used in Spring Training, having opened in 1923. It was, however, renovated in the early '90s and then again over the past offseason, when the Pirates added lights. Capacity at the field is about 6,500.
As for Bradenton itself, it's not exactly the vacation mecca that you would like spending seven weeks at, but there is plenty of good seafood, nearby beaches and museums in the area if you are looking for something else to do besides taking in Spring Training games. Oh, and I've got the restaurant recommendations if you need those, too.
I read that the Pirates will again will be wearing a special hat for St. Patrick's Day. I have spent hours trying to find this hat on the Internet and in shops. Any suggestions or strings you could pull?
-- Tim K., Zelienople, Pa.
Wish I had the power to pull strings, but alas, I have realized that I really don't have much pull at all. The green hats that the Pirates are wearing are being sold here at the park, but I can't seem to locate them anywhere else. MLB.com is selling a variety of green apparel in honor of the Irish holiday, but green Pirates hats are unfortunately not one of the items available for purchase.
But I figured I'd put your question out here, Tim, in case anyone else has any recommendations by chance on where to find the hat.
I heard a rumor that the Pirates are selling "one price" tickets, which include food and drink with the cost of the ticket. Is that so?
-- Jim C., Pittsburgh
Good news, Jim (well, unless you are on a diet, I guess). It's not a rumor. It's a fact. All the specifics you need on the new All-You-Can-Eat section can be found in this release.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.