I was really excited to be back at PNC Park and although the crowds would increase just because of this, I was up for the challenge.
I started with the usual stretching. Then I went onto the bridge to throw and my arm was ready. I was making throws from about halfway across the bridge without any bounces.
Then it was time to brave the over 90 degree heat and try to snag some baseballs.
We all went in to look for easter eggs, I went into the second deck and there hiding under the seat portion was a ball for ball #1. It’s about time I found an easter egg over there. Ushers, prize wheel members and pizza shop owners have been going in and pocketing the baseballs for their own personal benefit. While some are being given to kids, many are kept and that is not right. Remember we are watching and if we catch you then you will have to deal with Dennis and that may mean termination. Think about that.
The highlight of Pirates BP for me was when Pedro Alvarez was hitting. He hit an opposite field ground rule double, and I was two sections over, but quickly ran over and got it for ball #2.
Pirates BP doesn’t usually result in too many baseballs since the first group which contains Andrew McCutchen has already hit.
Twins BP was more promising with their lefties.
Still it wasn’t 5:30 yet so I had to stay in left or play a crowded riverwalk. I went with the first option and since I was the only who knew who pitcher Liam Hendriks was, I got ball #3.
Ball #4 occurred after 5:30 in centerfield. Twins Alex Burnett and the other Twin who I think was Brian Duensing were generous with tossups and Duensing gave me a nice toss up. Assist goes to a random kid who asked them to sign the ball. It made Duensing turn around and got me the ball.
I tried my luck at first base, but it was not to be. So I went to the dugout. It was a packed area but I was the only one with a glove. Perfect.
Twins coach Joe Vavra had baseballs and he was looking for people to throw them too. Ball #5. Can of corn.
That would be it or Tuesday and the Pirates were able to get a win in Ryan Doumit and Matt Capps’ returns to Pittsburgh. I left after the first inning in order to beat the heat.
I would not attend Wednesday’s game due to an appointment and instead went to Greentree to watch summer league basketball.
I did the exact same routine as Tuesday and the throws were still great. In even better news, I finally got my camera so from here on in, you will get to see actual game pics.
I expected big things for this game but when I came in and saw no easter eggs, I looked on the field and the cage was not up yet.
Honestly, my first thought was, “You’ve got to be ******* kidding me!”
Jason Grilli could see the grim looks on everyone’s faces and told us it was hot and the Pirates would not hit. The Twins would though.
I would not get any of the relievers baseballs although I tried to solve a rumor. Quinn a commentor on here said that Doug Slaten would dougie during his time in AAA so when my water accidentally fell and Slaten retrieved it, I asked him and he said he didn’t. Interestingly enough it led to an enjoyable conversation.
Randomly my buddy Euclides Rojas at the very end long tossed me a baseball that landed in the glove for ball #1.
Taking a break from ballhawking I have set out on a mission. I am trying to get my glove signed by as many Pirates as possible. Why? Barring a setback, I intend on this being my last full season of ballhawking. While I definitely enjoy it and would continue doing select road trips, my passion is journalism and I would love to work as an intern with them or cover the team from that perspective all season. I think this will be a cool way to remember what has been a part of my life since July 2009.
Here was the progress thru this game:
Back to the ballhawking portion of this entry. I tried the first base area and was able to get Jared Burton to throw me a ball for the second snag of the day.
That was it for Twins BP so I went to the dugout and try a Joe Vavra toss up again. He tossed a high one so I looked back and judged and made a circus catch for ball #3. Thanks Joe!
From there, it was off to the bullpen for James McDonald vs Liam Hendriks.
Here is a random shot I got. Poor Euclides. I was trying to take a picture of him and this happened.
Meanwhile in the Twins bullpen, Hendriks was still warming up but the relievers were all already in the bullpen and apparently fans of Fifa Soccer as evidenced by this photo which reminded me of the wall in soccer. Also as a reference the first reliever on the left was Burton who threw me ball #2.
Ultimately, Rojas threw me another ball for ball #4 which was awesome.
The bullpen then came in.
Speaking of awesome, the Pirates got off to a fast start, and I left early again and left any hope of the Twins winning with me.
All in all, not a bad series and the Pirates took care of business against the Twins and James McDonald pitched his first ever complete game. McDonald has been a different Pirates pitcher this season and even when I watch him from the bullpen, he is much more confident in himself and his stuff and it is a complete transformation. I would say that getting McDonald at the deadline a couple years back was Neal Huntington’s best move as Pirates GM.
As for me it was on to the Tigers series and more triumphs and frustrations.
Speaking of frustrations, I have decided to challenge myself. PNC Park is considered by many to be the “Best Ballpark in America” however no ballpark is perfect and PNC is far from it. I have decided that for each of the remaining home games starting with the Tigers game on Friday, I would come up with one thing about the ballpark that digusts me and will put it in the entry. At the end of the season there will be a master list compiled. These opinions are mine and mine only with no outside influence.
Well I guess you’ll have to wait for the next entry to see the debut of that as well as how I did in the first game of the Tigers series.
For me at least, Opening Day is a national holiday. Pirate fans come together once a year to celebrate this team and the start of the baseball season, and every baseball hangover is instantly cured.
I was at the gates around 10:00 for what was going to be an exciting day. The first thing I did was take a nice run from the Clemente Gate to home plate, which was a decent run. There, I ran into Randi Hoffman, who along with Joe Klimchak does interviews for the Pirates to place on their website and apparently Xfinity On Demand.
The interview itself was about Opening Day, and what it meant to me. I recalled my experience from two or three years ago when I was in the Lexus Club and saw Zach Duke put his fist in the air after beating the Astros. That was the year of the whole Stanton Heights police shootings, so it was a very emotional day.
With that I jogged back to the Clemente Gate.
Throughout the time before the gates opened, I saw Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington greeting the fans as they were coming to the ballpark.
I was told that the gates were going to open at 11:30, so myself, Nick Pelescak and Erik Jabs all threw on the Clemente Bridge. This was my first test on the season, and by all reports I passed. My glove work was great and I did not have any of my wild throws. Erik cut the session short when he saw the ticket takers getting ready.
I was surprised because it was 10:49. Would we get in early? Well according to one of the ticket takers, we were getting in at 11. This made me very excited because the chance to see some of Pirates BP was exciting, and the chance of me getting a baseball is that much better.
There was one problem, and that was that the bag checkers and security were not at the gate.
Well 11:00 came and went and so did 11:10 and no sign of the security guards. All of a sudden, someone appeared around 11:15 and all of the Pirates employees huddled up (seriously, this isn’t football).
The ticket taker immediately changed his story then, and at 11:30 the gate was to be opened.
Even worse news was that it wasn’t just the Clemente Gate that would open at 11:30, it was all gates. Things just got a lot harder.
Of course, this was the case and for non-7:05 games, there will not be any season ticket holder time. Things are already tough enough with the grounds crew ruining time of BP to prepare a field that is already ready, and tarping the field even for a small rain shower.
Here is the official word from the Pirates website:
The 2012 PNC Park gate times are as follows:
“For Monday through Friday night games, Season Ticket Holders may enter the ballpark and proceed to the Left Field Bleachers 2 hours and 30 minutes prior to game time.
On Saturday night games, Season Ticket Holders are permitted to enter into the Left Field Bleachers and main concourse 2 hours and 30 minutes prior to game time.
Early access is granted by entering through the Clemente (CF) Riverwalk Gate, and proceeding to the bullpen gates where season ticket holders can then show their Season Ticket Holder card or have their season ticket scanned.
Season Ticket Holder early entry is not available on day games (12:35pm, 1:35pm and 4:05pm).”
Oh well, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
The Clemente Gate line was split into a Y with the line going two ways (??). I did search for Easter Eggs, but found nothing, and I knew that things were going to go bad from there.
Upon coming into the ballpark, I saw red, which meant that the Pirates were done with BP already. There of course were no Easter Eggs in left field, because Manny Sanguillen’s grandson snuck into left field and pocketed the five baseballs that were in there. Yes that is a fact as myself and several others saw him leave “Manny’s BBQ” and go into the seats, which is not allowed.
It felt wrong to wear Phillies gear, but really what choice did I have? Things were tough, and I could not get near a batted ball.
Joe Savery was in left field and he was not tossing anything up, which stunk.
I decided to relocate to center field and first base during BP and center yielded nothing for me, so I went back over to first base. Luckily Kyle Kendrick was there, and he tossed me a baseball. I guess I can say, Kyle you got Punk’d again.
Ball number one on the day and six on the season, crisis and shutout averted.
Despite me going to the dugout after BP, I was unable to snag anything else until I went over to the bullpen.
In the top of the first, my buddy bullpen catcher Herbie Andrade threw a baseball that a kid misplayed and I saved for ball #2 on the day. I immediately gave it to the kid, whose mother made him come over and thank me.
I then left to sit in my season ticket section (312). My dad was in his seat so, Colston and I stayed until the bottom of the seventh inning was over so that we could beat the traffic.
The game itself was a great pitching battle between Roy Halladay and Erik Bedard.
Both pitchers looked great warming up and seemed in their element, something that would carry into the game.
It was surreal to see the first pitch, because that is when it hits you that the 2012 season is underway.
The difference in the game was a Carlos Ruiz sacrifice fly. Right fielder Jose Tabata’s throw to catcher Rod Barajas was too high and Ty Wigginton scored the winning run in a 1-0 game.
Yes the Pirates ran into a great pitcher who has won 39 games over the past two seasons, however the Pirates offense still looked unprepared and mediocre at best. This will have to change if this team wants to become winners this season.
The Pirates had Friday off, so my next game was Saturday? Would I continue my strong start on the day where I averaged five baseballs a game last season, or would I choke? I guess you’ll have to find out soon. Thanks as always for reading.
As an added bonus, here are some extra pictures from the game:
The Pirates have made four cuts today, and here they are:
.Andy Marte- Marte was one of the team’s first signings this off-season. He once was a highly regarded prospect however in 2010 with the Cleveland Indians, hit only .229 with five homers and 19 Runs Batted In. Mind you Marte only had 170 at-bats, this was enough for the Pirates to sign him to a Minor League contract. This Spring, Marte batted .364, however this was not enough for him to earn a spot on the team. Marte had a shot at making the Big League roster, however lost out on the corner infield battle to Steve Pearce.
.Corey Wimberly- Wimberly to me always seemed like a cheap Nyjer Morgan. He was acquired by the Pirates for righty Ryan Kelly. Wimberly at short during Spring Training was not a great idea as he kept bouncing his throws. He never played a position that well, and hit only .212. It took him a while to even get a hit, but finally got one, but too little too late.
. Brian Burres- This was the most surprising cut, as it had appeared that the Pirates wanted two relievers that were left-handed. He had been solid all spring, but his start earlier in the week against the Astros perhaps did him in. Still, Burres was widely expected to have a role in the bullpen and had proven his worth last September as well.
. Dusty Brown- This cut made sense as essentially Brown was the odd catcher out. The Pirates may bring three catchers with them when they play Chicago, and Brown was not in their Major League plans. He was signed to a Minor League deal after playing for the Boston Red Sox last season. He hit .321 this spring.
. Another announcement was made with this move that Steve Pearce has essentially clinched the backup corner infield job. Pearce made an adjustment in his swing where he eliminated the leg kick. Hopefully he can improve the timing of his swing. Manager Clint Hurdle said this is not 100% confirmed yet because there always in the possibility of a trade.
. The last backup infielder job is between Pedro Ciriaco and Josh Rodriguez. Ciriaco has proven himself to be the better player, however Rodriguez is the Rule-5 Draft pick. If Rodriguez does not make the team, he will have to be offered back to the Cleveland Indians although General Manager Neal Huntington has said that in that case he would negotiate a deal to get Rodriguez back, a la Evan Meek a few seasons ago.
.Chris Snyder remains to be hurt. He was scratched again from the lineup due to more back soreness. He is getting treatment but his status for next Friday’s opener is up in the air. If he cannot go, Ryan Doumit likely will be the Opening Day catcher with Jason Jaramillo the backup. Snyder will have to condition himself and get the proper at-bats if he should be ready to go. If he is injured for too long then only two catchers would be heading north and perhaps John Bowker could get than final roster spot.
. The bullpen has become an interesting battle, as Scott Olsen and Joe Beimel both will be unable to start the season, and with Brian Burres not making the club, Jeff Karstens will be the long reliever. This opens up the bullpen competition. Three relievers in Chris Leroux, Mike Crotta and Garrett Olson will compete for two spots. It is widely assumed that Olson will get a spot. Jose Ascanio is not faring well as Pirates Prospects blog says his fastball topped out at 91 miles per hour, slower than normal and also lacking command. If Karstens has to start in the rotation due to the injury to James McDonald, then Olson, Leroux and Crotta will all make the team.
. Clint Hurdle also seemingly made his final lineup official making Jose Tabata his lead off hitter. Andrew McCutchen will hit third, while Lyle Overbay will hit fourth. Pedro Alvarez will hit fifth.
. The Major League roster is now at 32 spots, and needs to be cut down to 25 in time for Opening Day on Friday.
Baseball experts grade trades, but obviously there has not been a big trade in Pirates baseball lately. PirateFest is a way of players and coaches saying thanks to the fans and some players do it better than others. This entry is meant to grade the players on their off the field activities and behaviors and in Christmas terms show who was naughty and who was nice.
Manager Clint Hurdle Grade- A+: Clint Hurdle gets it; he knows that Pirates fans have dealt with a losing team for 18 seasons and he knows how hungry this city is for a winner. I was at PirateFest on Friday and Sunday and both days Hurdle was active. Friday he endured two consecutive hours of questioning from fans (Ask Pirates Management which he also participated in on Saturday and Q&A involving all players and coaches) and also had interviews with Joe Bendel of ESPN 970 AM and Stan Savran for Inside Pirates Baseball. I was at the Savran interview, and before it, he posed for pictures (including one with me) and signed autographs. He really is the anti John Russell as he tells you what he thinks and tried to make an effort to talk with as many fans as possible. He was very active on Saturday as well I heard. A small complaint was after his obligation of participating in the Youth Clinic on the baseball field, he left. Still, after the clinic he signed autographs for as long as he could and talked with some fans. Before he left he thanked host Joe Klimchak and shook my hand and left. Kudos to Hurdle for making us all huge believers in his philosophy. Here’s to hoping, he can keep the players motivated and build a winner.
Jeff Banister- Grade A: Banister had a tough role, because if you did not identify him, chances are that not many Pirate fans would have known who he was. He had only one question directed towards him at Friday’s Season Ticket Q&A so it was tough on him there. Also, when the players were escorted to the break room, I saw Banister being escorted and no one ran after him for an autograph or anything. Banister was a big part of Saturday’s and Sunday’s Youth Clinic. I saw a part of the Sunday event and Banister seemed to be a big hit with the kids. One kid asked him if he had a World Series ring and Banister said that he did not, but he took off his Minor League ring and let the child hold it and pass it around. The fact that Banister trusted a kid with a valuable possession of his and also was able to interact with parents and children really speaks a lot about him as a person. Banister stayed longer for autographs than Hurdle after the Sunday clinic. Banister still will not be a household name, but remember, he almost became our manager and he showed glimpses of being able to handle the job.
Ray Searage Grade C-: This grade would be lower if he did not participate in Saturday’s Youth Clinic. Searage got a lot of questions thrown at him at Friday’s Season Ticket Q&A. One such question involved whether Searage or Chris Snyder should receive more credit for the pitchers improving their numbers. Searage immediately replied “Sny-rich” which drew some laughs. Searage was not used much and I did not see him at all on Sunday which was a shame as I would have been interested in talking with him. Still, I am taking it a little easy on Searage, especially since fans have not been too high on pitching coaches in the recent past.
Garrett Jones Grade B+: Jones was at PirateFest on Friday and Saturday. Jones made an immediate impact on Friday as both him and Kevin Correia were the first to sign in the MVP Zone which was exclusive for season ticket holders. Jones was active throughout Friday as he participated in two games, autographs signings and the season ticket holder Q&A. Someone asked Jones a question and said, “hypothetically if you were to marry my daughter, which Pirate would be your best man?” Jones paused as the question was an awkward on all counts and then answered Steve Pearce as he was a good friend. After the question, the audience could hear Jones whisper awkward into the mic. Still, not many would answer that question. Jones is really nice to the fans and if you ask him for an autograph, he is one of the nicest guys to get it from. Jones is an engaging guy. He got some points taken off for not attending Sunday’s festivities as I know a lot of kids love Jones. Still, he made an impact on PirateFest.
Jose Tabata Grade B+: Tabata was a huge hit at his first PirateFest. The fans loved Tabata and his charm, as well as his willingness to sign countless autographs for fans. The fans loved when he said “Black and Yellow” when mentioning that he would root for the Steelers. Tabata needs to be less shy and show more of his personality. I was able to break through because I spoke to him in Spanish, but he is not completely comfortable with English yet and that forced him to be a limited and that is why he did not get an A.
Neil Walker Grade B-: I know that I am grading Walker harshly, but he is “The Pittsburgh Kid”. Walker was sick for two days although he did appear Friday on Inside Pirates Baseball and the Player Q&A. He agreed to use “Black and Yellow” by Wiz Khalifa as his new at-bat song in order for one Pittsburgher to support another. Despite being sick, Walker tried to make up for lost time by making appearances on Sunday and it was noticed by parents and kids, but still regardless of the excuse, I was a little under the weather Sunday but I still showed up.
Andrew McCutchen Grade D: I have a huge problem with Andrew McCutchen and it is his off the field attitude. I am a huge fan of his on the field play but off the field he is conceited. I had a similar problem with Nyjer Morgan as both shine when a camera is in their face, but when it is off, they seem to care less about being anywhere. I first encountered this with Cutch at Bowling With the Bucs. I don’t know how to describe it, I mean he signed stuff, but he just felt indifferent and didn’t really feel like talking. McCutchen started out Season Ticket Q&A by signing a kid’s baseball, but soon the autograph requests came in and he kept saying “we’ll see”. Cutch fled quickly afterwards. Fellow ballhawk Erik Jabs also put up a Youtube video of McCutchen at a Caravan stop rolling his eyes at someone who was talking to Ross Ohlendorf because he was taking too long to get to him. At PirateFest on Sunday, he was in the public autograph signing wearing just a black shirt. All of the Pirates wear their home jerseys and it has been that way for years, the problem was corrected during Sunday’s MVP Zone signing session. McCutchen will have to improve his attitude, and fans need to see what is going on.
Paul Maholm Grade A+: Maholm is always good with the fans and if he does go at the trade deadline, then it will be a true loss for Pittsburgh. Maholm posed in photos with fans at a booth on Friday and also signed a ton of autographs all three days. He was a part of games such as Minute to Win It and the Perogie Eating Contest and he is a clear fan favorite. Maholm also was one of the Pirates with which it is easy to communicate with. Hopefully, some of his teammates will take note.
Brad Lincoln Grade A: Lincoln put himself out there, signing autographs for the public and even signing in the Pirates team store. It is easy to root for Lincoln to turn himself around after a disappointing 2010 season in the Major League level. Lincoln was at PirateFest all three days.
Kevin Correia Grade A: Correia told Rob Biertempfl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he went to PirateFest to meet his soon to be teammates but he was very social with the fans as well. He put himself out there right away signing for the season ticket holders on Friday in the MVP Zone. There was a video of him released showing a child how to release when throwing the baseball as part of Saturday’s Youth Clinic and he offered encouragement to the child. Correia also signed autographs even when he did not have to and also was willing to talk with the fans. I really hope that he has a nice season, and I believe that if he has any run support, that he will be the breakout player of this team.
Jeff Karstens Grade A: Karstens was at PirateFest all three days and he was active during all of these days. Karstens signed countless autographs without complaining and also participated in a lot of games. He was not a part of Friday’s season ticket Q&A as I believe he was signing autographs elsewhere at PirateFest. What is holding him back a little bit is that he is shy and he is not that engaging when it comes to interacting with the fans. Still, like Maholm, Karstens is very active in Pirates initiatives in the community.
Ross Ohlendorf Grade A+: Ohlendorf easily could have stayed home. I mean he is having a disagreement with Pirates management over his contract and it could take him to arbitration. Freddy Sanchez missed PirateFest a couple of years ago because of this and Doumit missed both the Caravan and PirateFest over a loss of favor in the organization. Ohlendorf could have pulled a Doumit and not come, but that is not Ohlendorf’s style. Not once did I hear Ohlendorf complain, and he signed many autographs and even on Friday when he was supposed to leave the main stage right away, he still signed an autograph and allowed me to take a picture of him. Ohlendorf is one of the nicest players on the team.
James McDonald Grade D+: I heard that McDonald was very nice on Saturday, but still because of illness he was not at Caravan stops and he was only at PirateFest on Saturday. This is supposed to be the ace of the staff and to not have him consistently represent the team gives him a low grade.
Charlie Morton Grade B: I did not see Morton much if at all on Friday. It seemed like he laid low unless he had an autograph signing. I know he played the games, but not much of his personality came out either. Still he did show up and did not complain at all, and for that he deserves a lot of credit.
Evan Meek Grade A+: Meek was great on all three days of PirateFest. He did not complain when signing autographs and he hosted a ton of games while at PirateFest. He made a funny banker at Deal or No Deal and at season ticket Q&A on Friday he really let his personality shine. After games and radio interviews, players are normally whisked away as soon as possible and not allowed to sign autographs, take pictures or sometimes even shake hands. Meek frequently made sure that he had time to do this. This review is unbiased although he is my favorite player and we had a couple of nice genuine conversations. Still, Meek is a great person and should have a great season.
Bob Nutting Grade B+: Nutting was very engaging with fans, myself included on Friday before his appearance on Inside Pirates Baseball and thanked all of us for coming. Nutting takes a lot of heat from fans, and a lot of the criticism he receives is unfair. I know it is easy to blame Nutting, but it is not all his fault. I am not saying that he is doing the best job ever, but still he obviously is doing something right if there is a record breaking crowd at PirateFest. I know that he was there on Sunday to speak to Suite Holders, but compared to Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly, he was not out enough talking to the fans.
Frank Coonelly Grade A: The only thing preventing him from an A+ is that I did not see him on Sunday. I grade Huntington, Coonelly and Nutting harsher than others because they are expected to be out and about more than the others at PirateFest. On Friday, Coonelly was out and about all day talking to as many of the 3,500 fans that attended as possible. He posed for all kinds of pictures, answered questions at both Ask Pirates Management sessions, signed countless autographs and also tried his best to talk to the fans. The job he did is very commendable and Coonelly understands the need to talk to the fans to find out what they like and don’t like about what he is doing and the direction of the team. Here’s hoping that Coonelly will take in the fan’s opinions all season long in good times and bad.
Neal Huntington Grade A: Neal also took a beating from fans as like Coonelly, he had to answer questions in Ask Pirates Management. I did not see him make the rounds on Friday but he did make the rounds on Sunday and I was one of his many stops. For Huntington this is a make or break year as if the team does fail this season, he very well could go.
I will have recaps of my Friday and Sunday adventures at PirateFest as well as pictures from Friday’s proceedings up later this week.
There will be a part 3 for a break down of these features and a part 4 when the autograph schedule comes up, but the press release on information of the year’s PirateFest has been released. I actually got the press release in my email and thus found out about this before it was released. Here are the features:
The Pirates have released all kinds of information on PirateFest except signature schedules. I actually got my tickets Saturday and will be going to the Season Ticket Holder Day on Friday and likely Sunday. Here is my assessment of each day as well as some names for autographs.
Friday: This in my opinion is the best day to go. If you are a true Pittsburgh Pirates fan, then Fridays have been the best day to go. This year, the Pirates made Friday all about the season ticket holder. From 4 PM until 6:30 PM, season ticket holders who paid in full by December 17 get to mingle with all of the Pirates that will be in town. This could be a great opportunity to get that autograph or even find out all kinds of stuff about some of your favorite Pirates. The actual PirateFest event for the night will go from 6:30 PM until 10 PM. This event is only open to season ticket holders, and those who were a part of the 4:30 event will not have to re-enter.
Saturday: If you are not a season ticket holder, Saturday gives you the most bang for your buck. Tickets are $12 for adults and $4 for kids 14 and under. Also season ticket holders get two free tickets to use in addition to the event on Friday. I personally have gone all three days and hated Saturday the most. The lines are longer and it just seems like people are there just to be there. There are some nice things that go on there though, but they are rare. Last year, pitcher Charlie Morton sang songs in support of what happened in Haiti. It was a nice interactive experience and I donated some money. A lot of the Pirates were there to support him. Rocco DeMaro was tragically fired by 104.7 and he would do his Weekend Sportsline radio show from PirateFest each Saturday. The Q&A sessions are always packed, although the questions which are asked by fans, are either stupid or have been asked before. This year, it may be the only chance to ask questions of Neal Huntington, Frank Coonelly and Clint Hurdle in the popular “Ask Pirates Management” event. The line to get in on Saturdays has always been ridiculous. I advise you to stay away unless you want to take a lot of pictures.
Sunday: Sunday has always been known as family day and left over day. Sunday is when the kids come and thus the lines to get in are even more ridiculous that Saturdays. Still it is much more worth it than Saturday for me. The autograph lines which are ridiculous on Saturdays are more sane on Sunday and even more so for season ticket holders who get MVP Zone access. During the games that go on at the big stages, prizes which are not won are typically given away to fans. Also leftovers are constantly given by Pirates and last year I got a Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm bobblehead as well as a shirt. Also as the day ends, the games get much more attractive as your dollar goes a longer way. It is prize city and prizes are just given away. Instead of one prize you may get three or four. The Pirates don’t want to keep all of last year’s promotions and thus they just give them away. While the hours are always shortest on Sunday, it is the most profitable of all of the days.
With that being said, here are the players that will be at PirateFest. Just a reminder though, that these players will not be here all of the time, so if you are trying to get an autograph from a specific player go to www.pittsburghpirates.com , to find the times they will be signing.
Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Evan Meek, Garrett Jones, Jose Tabata, Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Brad Lincoln, Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Ray Searage, Clint Hurdle, Jeff Banister.
I am sure that Neal Huntington, Bob Nutting and Frank Coonelly will all be there as well, and I am sure that other players will come as well.
Pedro Alvarez is not likely to come as he is getting married the week before PirateFest. Also, Joel Hanrahan mentioned on Twitter that he will only be at Pirate Caravan thus meaning he will not be at PirateFest.
I was surprised that Lincoln will be there and look forward to meeting Correia. I am also interested in why Charlie Morton and Ryan Doumit are not on that list.
PirateFest part 2 will come up when I find out what the team’s final player list and autograph signings will be.
I apologize for not being able to post this entry last night, however I was feeling very sick. I am better now and this will be my only post today as it is New Year’s. Just as a reminder, I thank each and every one of you for reading my blog. Whether you are a brand new reader or a loyal tried and true reader, I appreciate your support, and ask for you to continue your support for years to come. I also wish each and every one of you a happy and healthy New Year.
Here is the projected Pirates rotation as it stands today:
1. James McDonald
2. Paul Maholm
3. Kevin Correia
4. Ross Ohlendorf
5. Charlie Morton
6. Scott Olsen
Meanwhile MLB Network projects this as the rotation:
1. James McDonald
2. Paul Maholm
3. Kevin Correia
4. Scott Olsen
5. Ross Ohlendorf
James McDonald came along with Andrew Lambo in the trade that sent Octavio Dotel to the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was at McDonald’s Pirates debut, and he looked dominant against the Colorado Rockies striking out a career high eight hitters. For me he compares to Ian Snell minus the attitude. He also is a lot more consistent. “I was just real excited today and ready to be on the mound and to get a chance to start every five days,” said McDonald on the start. “I was having fun today. When you get ahead, pitching can be fun.”
McDonald showed throughout his tenure that he is closest to ace material for the Pirates. That does not say much, but once he became a Pirates, he got down to business and he has the fastest and most devastating pitches of the starters.
McDonald also had a 20 inning scoreless streak as he shut out the Atlanta Braves on September 7 and the New York Mets on September 13. The streak ended September 18 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he bounced back and still won the game 4-1. That start perhaps impressed me the most, as many pitchers would have had the scoreless streaks in their head and then imploded once a run was allowed. Allowing the run early in the game helped McDonald settle down and concentrate and even give his team the win.
Perhaps the biggest support McDonald received was from Jack Moore of Fangraphs who called McDonald an “ace” and even called him the biggest steal of the 2010 MLB Trade Deadline.
McDonald finished with an overall record of 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA, however one of those losses occurred when he was with the Dodgers.
Paul Maholm has perhaps pitched like our ace in recent years, however he has been perhaps the most inconsistent of all of the Pirates starters in recent years. I broke down his stats in a previous post, but last year he gave up 225 hits in 185.1 innings and that is not that great.
He did start 32 games which shows that he is healthy and not injury prone, and that is reassuring. Still Maholm was right up there for most losses in the Majors and finished with a 9-15 record, sometimes a victim of poor run support. Maholm also had a fielding percentage of .938.
It is worth noting that Maholm seemed to pitch a bit better with Ray Searage as his pitching coach, and it is important to the Pirates that Maholm succeeds because as the pirates.com projects, he would be the only lefty in the rotation. Maholm, like almost all of the Pirates starters does not have the speed on his fastball, and thus location will be very important to Paul.
Kevin Correia came to us as a free agent and a pitcher last season for the San Diego Padres for 2 years and $8 million. Correia was not a part of the Padres rotation come season’s end, and that could be a concern, however, you have to remember that the Padres were on the cusp of being a playoff team last season and the Pirates were not even close.
Correia finished 10-10 last season with a 5.40 ERA. He appeared in 28 games, starting in 26 of them. My concern is his 145 innings pitched, because if you remember a couple of seasons ago, Ross Ohlendorf was having a great season, but because of his low innings count the season before, the Pirates limited and eventually shut down Ohlendorf. I think that Correia will have a nice season, but I worry that come September, Correia will be out of the mix because his innings count will be too high.
Ross Ohlendorf was a deceptive pitcher as he consistently lost but was the victim of poor run support. His 1-11 season was clearly a fluke. Ohlendorf was consistenly injured throughout the season and a few of the losses were his fault, but often times the team would either score zero or one run in his start putting added pressure against Ohlendorf. Perhaps putting him in the fourth spot will be manageble for Ohlendorf who can put the injuries aside and get some support with a new look line up.
Charlie Morton had a great 2009 and the team had high hopes for him to be a breakout star for the team. It is easy now to say that they should have known better. His first start was on April 8 against the Arizona Diamondbacks and he started out great striking out his first five batters. But in his 3.1 innings pitched, he allowed 8 runs. Morton lost all five starts in April posting a 12.57 ERA. Morton earned his first win on May 5 against the Chicago Cubs by a 4-2 decision. He couldn’t put anything together losing his next four games and then was placed on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue and a 1-9 record.
After rehab and a meeting with a sports psychologist, he was sent to AAA Indianapolis.
Speaking before his first start with the Indians, Morton said “I was pressing. I wasn’t being myself on the mound those last couple times I went out there in Pittsburgh. There was so much going on in my mind. At the end of last year, I finished strong, I got a glimpse of what I could do, truly, in the big leagues, going out there and going deep into games, being competitive, being someone who was pretty good. I wanted to be out there for myself and because I care about this team and organization. At the same time, though, after that last one, that last start, because I care about these guys is why, exactly, I knew I couldn’t go back out there again.”
He earned his first win in AAA when the team defeated the Durham Bulls on June 24.
He was re-called by the Pirates when Ohlendorf was injured, and in his first start against the Milwaukee Brewers, he gave up 8 runs in 3 innings.
Things got more encouraging with Morton as the season drew closer to an end. When Searage took the pitching coach job, Morton seemed more in his element. In a game I attending in mid-September, Morton was the scheduled pitcher and I happened to be close to where he entered and he seemed in control even saying “hi, how are you” to me. He got the win that day and looked like a changed pitcher. His final start was October 2 against the Florida Marlins, and although the team lost 2-0, things were encouraging as Morton struck out a career high 9 strikeouts. Morton finished with a 2-12 record with a 7.57 ERA but after that August call-up he had a 4.26 ERA.
Morton is the clear wild card, so it will be interesting to see what he has to offer. Will we see the April 2010 version of Charlie Morton where he could not get a break, or will we see the September/October 2010 Charlie Morton where he was the aggressor attacking the strike zone and getting much more positive results? Spring Training will tell the tale, but Morton is a clear front runner for the fifth spot.
While Morton was projected a starter on the Pirates website, Olsen took his place on the MLB Network projections. He signed for cheap with the Pirates this offseason, but he could get a lot more because of all of the performance bonuses he could earn. Hopefully Clint Hurdle can rid Olsen of his attitude problem, and if he does, I like Olsen in the rotation. My concern with Olsen is that he is essentially, a poor man’s Zach Duke. He can give up a ton of hits (he gave up 226 hits in 176.2 innings for the Marlins in 2007) and really bring up that pitch count. In Colorado pitchers pitched an average of 93 pitches per game under Hurdle, and if Olsen is giving up a ton of hits, then he will not last that long.
Olsen finished with a 4-8 record and an ERA of 5.56 for the Washington Nationals last season. He appeared in 17 games starting in 15 of them. Despite a small portion size, he had a perfect fielding percentage as well, which could help an infield which constantly made errors. Olsen also has another thing going for him as he is left-handed. Currently Maholm is the only lefty in the rotation and Olsen could perhaps balance out the rotation a little bit more. It looks to be a battle between Olsen and Morton for that fifth spot. Whoever loses will leave an interesting decision for Hurdle and management as they could prove to be valuable as long relievers but perhaps there time could be better utilized as starters in AAA. Still that would be a huge blow to Morton’s new found confidence and Olsen could blow another gasket and get into more confrontations.
A long shot for the role of fifth starter is Brad Lincoln. Lincoln was selected by the Pirates with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. By drafting Lincoln, the team passed on other current proven talent in Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Tim Lincecum. It is easy to say that now, as who knows what would have happened if one of these three were in our rotation.
On Wednesday June 9, Lincoln made his MLB debut against the Nationals after a 6-2 record in AAA before the call-up. In his six innings, and gave up five earned runs and walked two and struck out three.
He earned his first Major League victory on June 30 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Pitching seven innings while striking out six and walking one in the Pirates 2-0 win. “I felt like it was going to be my day. With the wind blowing in, I used it to my advantage,” said Lincoln.
Lincoln was demoted to AAA Indy after his first loss of the season July 25 against the Padres. Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington cited a drop in Lincoln’s velocity since he was promoted and that he had strayed from the mechanics that made him a prolific starter with Indianapolis. “For me, it’s probably the best move,” said Lincoln.
Lincoln was a September call-up but was essentially useless as the Pirates did not use him in any critical moments.
Lincoln finished the season 1-4 with a 6.66 ERA. He appeared in 11 games and started in 9 of them. In his 52.2 innings, he gave up 66 hits, 42 runs (39 of them earned) and 9 homers. He also walked 15 and struck out 25.
While Lincoln’s pitching may not have been great, he did have a .400 average, making him a good hitting pitcher. He went 6 for 15 at the plate and drove in 3 runs.
Lincoln may be a long shot because of his pitching, but perhaps his bat will give him some consideration as the season wears on.
There are other names on the rise as well, and one of them is Rudy Owens. Rudy Owens was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 28th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft. It is not exactly the place where a name is made, but thus far Owns has made a pretty big impression on the Pirates.
He is left-handed and with the rotation surprisingly loaded on righties Owens will definitely have the Pirates attention. Things started slowly for Owens in 2007 and 2008, but in 2009, things improved for Owens as he went 10-1 for the West Virginia Power with a 1.70 ERA. He then went 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA for Lynchburg.
Owens spent all of the 2010 season in Altoona. He appeared and started in 26 games and finished with a record of 12-6 with an ERA of 2.46. He pitched 150 innings allowing only 124 hits and allowed 46 runs (41 earned). He only walked 23 hitters while striking out 132 hitters.
Lastly, before I make my projections, I will say another farewell to Zach Duke. Duke was a great person, but I believe that Joe Kerrigan screwed up his delivery. In 29 starts, Duke finished 8-15 with an ERA of 5.72. His 15 losses are tied for the second most losses in a season in his career (he had 16 losses in 2009). In his 159 innings, Duke gave up 212 hits, 115 runs (101 earned). He also allowed 25 home runs and walked 51 while striking out only 96 people. Duke did seem to bring it together with Searage at the helm, but his option was way too much money.
Finally, here is my projections for the rotation come April 1 as well as the rotation that would make sense:
1. James McDonald
2. Paul Maholm
3. Kevin Correia
4. Ross Ohlendorf
5. Charlie Morton
Makes sense rotation:
1. James McDonald
2. Paul Maholm
3. Kevin Correia
4. Scott Olsen
5. Ross Ohlendorf
The reason why I project that is that the Pirates have a lot of options. Morton had a lot going for him in September. Perhaps that is reason to get rid of him because in 2009 he had things going for him once he got his chance but couldn’t put it together in 2010 until the very end. Olsen is left-handed as said before and that helps his case. If he has a good spring, I think that management gives him the nod. I put the makes sense rotation the way I did because it mixes the righties and lefties and at least gives opposing teams something to prepare for on a more regular basis. I am not suggesting that this has to be the rotation, I mean if Morton has a better Spring, then by all means give him the job, but if they have an even Spring Training or Olsen has a better Spring Training, then give Olsen the nod and put Ohlendorf in the fifth spot.
Wow, that was a long post! I hope to my next post on the Pirates relievers up very soon. The only apparent locks in that department right now are Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. I will talk about them and others, as well as my pick for the Pirates closer job.