While the city of Pittsburgh is buzzing over yet another trip to the Super Bowl for the Steelers, another group of people had reason to be excited this weekend. Glorious baseball made its return to the steel city for PirateFest 2011. I was able to come home this weekend and enjoy the festivities on Friday and Saturday.
However, the beginning of my events this weekend happened in enemy territory at a Reds Caravan Event in Athens on Thursday. The fact it was just a mile from my school made it obvious that I had to check it out, whether the team was a division rival or not.
We made our way to the Athens Mall where a crowd of 200 or so had gathered. Being that Athens is about 3 hours from Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, the citizens are pretty split on teams, however the Reds recent success make them a popular choice in town.
The sassy and seductive Rosie Red kept fans happy while waiting in line.
The people on this stop was prospect Todd Frazier, announcer Chris Welsh, pitcher Travis Wood, and manager Dusty Baker.
The first person I met was Dusty. He was very engaging with the fans.
I asked him to take it easy on the Pirates this year. He said “Never”. I then quipped back “You better keep beating the Cardinals and Brewers then,” which got a laugh out of him.
Travis Wood was more quiet but still a nice guy.
Welsh and Frazier couldn’t have been nicer either. It was a good group of guys that were happy to be there. Another bit of good news is that I found out the Athens community day in Cincinnati happens to be the game April 16 against the Pirates. They are hoping to get a bus trip going so you can bet that I’ll be first in line if it gets put together.
After taking a test early Friday morning it was time to head home for PirateFest at the convention center.
I arrived with my brother shortly after 4:15. Apparently the long lines were gone and we walked right in.
I was curious to see how this would all turn out considering the fact that it was the first season ticket holder night. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.
Both the main autograph area and the MVP zone were hopping. Me and my brother made our way over there. After a record 10 minute wait we got to see Garrett Jones and new pitcher Kevin Correia.
G.I. Jones I noticed has really embraced the attention he has received after coming out of virtually nowhere a few years back. He loves being around the fans.
We then stopped at the Collectors area which was smaller than usual this year. We still got some good cards at decent prices which is always a plus.
We then headed over to the main autograph line knowing that Andrew McCutchen and Paul Maholm were signing next. After an hour wait we finally got to the front. At first Maholm wasn’t there which had me a little upset. I didn’t want to wait an hour for just one autograph. However, he came over later along with Kevin Correia and first base coach Luis Silviero.
Cutch’s dreads were in mid-season form.
Paul Maholm is always a pleasure to meet with.
We took a break after standing for so long by redeeming a coupon for a free meal at the concession stand, another new perk that I greatly appreciated. I then redeemed my free game ticket at the dart board, where I won the Kids Paddle Ball set that I was denied from getting during the regular season.
Walking around we encountered Brad Lincoln who was more than willing to sign for the fans.
By that time it was 6:30 and the fest had opened up to all prospective season ticket holders. Not just ones that were paid off. This made things more crowded. We headed back to the MVP zone, where all-star Evan Meek and Jose Tabata were signing. Unfortunately when I was about 20 or so people back in line, there was a changing of the guard. They were replaced by bust pitcher Charlie Morton and bench coach Jeff Bannister.
Though Charlie had arguably the worst season put forth by a player in all of baseball in 2010, he still has kept a light heart about things and is always up for a joke. I asked him if he was going to play his guitar for the crowds later this weekend, he said he forgot it back at home.
At the stage, the ask Pirates Management Q and A.
Usually I pass this up since people always ask the same questions. But tonight I stuck around to get my first glimpse at new manager Clint Hurdle. I have never heard a manager for this team in my life talk with such enthusiasm about the Pirates. You can actually tell he wants to be here. It was at this point that the excitement for the season set in. Well done Mr. Hurdle.
Next was the Team Q and A which is always fun to watch. The crowd often asks good questions that keep the players on their toes. This group definitely has good chemistry from what I saw and heard.
I headed home after a tiring first day having to recover for Saturday.
I made my way to the convention center on Saturday ready to enjoy the wonderful indoor baseball carnival for a second day.
I got there at about 2 PM so it had been going on for about four hours when I arrived. WOW! The place was packed. Say what you will about people not caring about the Pirates, it certainly wasn’t evident th
I went immediately to the MVP zone where I finally got to meet Jose Tabata.
It’s easy to see that he has been hitting the weights this winter. I don’t remember his forearms being that huge.
Soon after the Pittsburgh kid himself Neil Walker came to sign.
He was a little under the weather, but props to him for coming out.
I spent some time with my friends that came in just milling around enjoying the atmosphere, which is one of the best parts of this.
I saw my man Clint Hurdle was signing at the MVP zone. Since it started to get later in the evening, the crowd began to shrink. I took advantage of it to get to know the new skipper. We posed for a picture afterwards.
He thanked every fan that came through line for showing support for the team. While haters of the Pirates can make fun of many things, the manager is no longer going to be the butt of jokes.
I stuck around until closing just to see who would stop by the autograph table. From 6-7 former Pirate Al Oliver and announcer John Wehner.
Two good guys but nothing special. I was ready to leave until I heard Andrew McCutchen was going to be there at 7. I got back in line and waited around again. I got two more cards signed by him. When I got to the table, I could tell a tired and disinterested Cutch was ready to go home. He was biding his time between visitors drawing a Pirate “P” complete with flames and other touches. He barely lifted his head up to say “Hi” to me. He’s come under fire from a lot of fans that have encountered him during the Caravan and PirateFest this winter. It’s something I’m going to analyze in a post later this week (fingers crossed).
I headed home with a few more promos then my mom would have liked, and a ton of new autographs. Perhaps the most fun was mingling with all the people, getting a chance to talk about something different then the Super Bowl ad naseum, with fans that share the same passion I do. It was a productive 3 day stretch of baseball activity that has me wishing Spring Training were here already.
Here are the autographs I compiled during the weekend.
A Pedro Alvarez kids BP jersey to be given out. The Pirates are making a shift to gold BP jerseys in 2011. I think they look sharp.
A Dana Eveland game used jersey on sale for only(!!) $100.
The Pirate Parrot: Part Time mascot, Part Time pool shark.
Signs that Steve “The Second Coming” Pearce will still be around
13 Days until pitchers and catchers report.