Despite being delayed for a couple of days, I was really looking forward to heading the Baltimore. Erik and Nick’s schedule did not match mine, so I called fellow ballhawk Rick Sporcic who was more than willing to make the trip with me.
I was pleased to have a lot of leg room in Rick’s Camaro which made the 4.5 hour trip a whole lot easier.
We left at 9 AM on Thursday and arrived right on schedule.
We parked inside the Marriott Hotel parking lot and right when we left there, knew that we were in Orioles country.
We walked to the Eutaw Street Gate which is unique because it essentially is a street inside a ballpark. Tons of Orioles souvenir shops, eats, views and memorabilia all on a street and then the both ends serving as entrances.
Also there are a lot of great things to see outside of the Eutaw Street entrance.
With tons of time left, the two of us went sightseeing, and this was the first picture I took and ultimately what would be my first impression of Baltimore. A really weird impression to say the least.
Also saw the most interesting name of a restaurant in Baltimore as well.
I had my sights set on the Barnes and Noble in the Inner Harbor which I heard was rather large and it was.
The traffic was more than I had expected although there was a Sailabration being held in Baltimore. Apparently the event was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem.
I was able to buy a couple of books.
With Eutaw Street opened early, I bought my ticket and was able to go in way early.
Upon entering I went over to the bullpen area. Unlike the last time Rick was there, the area was locked off and someone was watching it.
This was my first image when I set up by the pen.
I then looked down into the bullpen where Pitching Coach Ray Searage was smoking something that was dark brown. Herbie Andrade and Euclides Rojas both were there as well and said hello to me.
They were there for Brad Lincoln’s bullpen session.
We also saw Jeff Karstens throw 15 pitches from the bullpen.
I knew I needed to try and snag that Boston Red Sox commemorative baseball. I thought my best bet would be to ask Rojas, a former Red Sox coach, so I did. I got the biggest look of confusion on his face afterwards, and obviously he had no idea what I was talking about.
Around 4 PM, we got kicked out and let the waiting game for 5 PM begin.
Rick and I would throw for 30 minutes and I have to say that I was throwing the fastest I had in a long time and the pop’s in Rick’s glove were evidence of that.
Afterwards I saw a man in an orange Orioles shirt and I knew right away who it was when he came up to me.
“Hit me,” I said.
What is this you ask? Well if you see the man in the following photo, he sprays a small squirt of water on your face and you get to choose a baseball card.
Don’t believe me?
Here was the card I picked.
Not too many pictures of BP but here is one of the Pirates pitchers throwing.
Then the camera was turned off. Lincoln tried protecting the pitchers but could not protect two hit balls that were hit into the stands about a minute apart very close to where I was standing for balls 1 and 2 of the day. Even better were that both were Orioles commemoratives meaning all I would need was the Red Sox commemorative to get all six.
I slowly filed over to the Pirates dugout and noticed Manager Clint Hurdle.
“Good luck today Clint,” I said.
“Thank you,” he said looking up and then realized me.
Then upon realizing it was me and recognized me continued.
“Hey, how have you been,” he asked.
“I’ve been great, how about you,” I replied.
“Great thank you. What brings you up here,” he asked.
“Honestly, I went up with a buddy to see a new ballpark, see the team play and to catch more baseballs for The Children’s Institute,” I replied.
“Hey, that’s my charity too,” he answered.
“I know, and I really would like to collaborate if that’s possible,” I said.
“Dang, now I’m going to have to get you the whole cart,” He replied referencing the big cart full of baseballs that would be thrown for bp.
He then went over to the top of the bag and pulled out a brand new baseball (with the practice logo) and tossed it to me for ball #3. I thanked him, wished him luck again and we parted ways.
Orioles BP ended and Rick joined me. He asked Orioles Bullpen Catcher Ronnie Deck for two Red Sox commemoratives and Deck did meet us.
“You’re the two that I owe baseballs to,” he asked.
We confirmed and he proceeded to check the baseballs. Weirdly he then blew us off and left with all of the baseballs. Needless to say we weren’t pleased but now not surprised when I heard that he stiffed Erik and Nick as well.
I would get two more baseballs, both from my buddy Coach Mark Strittmatter. There was a roped off area and he saw me, so I went down. He had a baseball which he gave me for ball #4. It had the normal logo on it. I asked if he knew anything about the Red Sox commemorative and he said they had some Orioles commemoratives but no Red Sox. He threw me ball #5 once BP was over and it was an Orioles ball. We talked as well and shook hands before parting ways.
Rick wanted to watch the whole game and I can’t blame him and he figured we’d leave Camden around 9:30 until I told him that Erik Bedard would get the start.
While Bedard went for the Pirates it would be Tommy Hunter for the Orioles.
After the first inning, I decided to walk around and check out the ballpark. Here are some pictures of what I found.
Here are some game pictures:
The Pirates would ultimately fall short.
Now my review of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The place is nice and spread out. Left field gives you room and a fair chance to stretch your legs and even get a baseball or two if you are a ballhawk.
The ballhawks can be aggressive but are friendly and welcome you to the ballpark.
You can get in early through Eutaw Street and this is a huge plus as it is open from 9-4 before reopening at 5 PM. It lets you get some food, buy that keepsake item and even go by the bullpen and get some interaction.
I am definitely did not like the fact that they have a designated smoking area. I apologize to smokers but I am against smoking inside a public place and that includes ballparks. It cluttered up the surrounding area and many smokers just ignored the designated area and just lit up wherever the pleased.
The fans are passionate about their Orioles but despite wearing a Pirates shirt all day, I was not heckled one time.
I will definitely be going back to Baltimore this year and it should be a great time. I thank Rick so much for taking me, although next time, I don’t think we should come and go in one day as we did leave right after the game and I got home around 3:30 or 4 AM and I was TIRED.
A quick time in to discuss the end of the game. The home plate umpire did not hook either myself or Rick up with baseballs. Frankly I wanted the lineup cards, but was ignored which sucked.
Jim Joyce was the last umpire in and signed two items, one of which was Rick’s baseball.
Before he left I knew I had something I wanted to say to him ever since the whole Armando Galaraga perfect game debacle.
“Jim. I really appreciate the way you handled the aftermath of that perfect game. You handled it with class and I really respect that,” I told him.
“Thank you so much, that really means a lot,” he said and he shook my hand before he left.
Before I finally wrap up this entry, I might as well show you a couple of the things I got.
So not the greatest of days and no Red Sox commemorative baseball, but still all in all, a fun time and three Orioles commemorative.
Now the wait is until Tuesday for a six game homestand which ends on Sunday. The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers are coming to town and things could go well for me although Saturday’s game is a 4:15 start and not 7:05 which will hurt all ballhawks totals as there will be no season ticket holder time. With attendance being higher due to the Pirates winning and interleague, things could get a bit harder in this coming week.
Today marked the unofficial start of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season as the Pirates decided to make their workout, the day before the home opener, open to the public. This was a great idea to raise the excitement levels for the fans and even make some money off of the concessions.
The only thing that ruined this good time was the Phillies who decided that they did not want the fans to see them hit. Erik Jabs decided to count his snags and although I was initially apprehensive, I opted to count mine as well.
I went to this event with my friends Andrew and Colston. We lined up by the Highmark Legacy Square entrance around 1:45 as that was the only gate that would be open for fans to get in come 2:30.
The three of us ran into some familiar faces which was great. We then all played a game of catch and I threw nice and easy. I was encouraged for the most part with the session and then got back to my position as first in line.
A short while later, my backpack was checked and we got to go in at 2:20, 10 minutes early. A couple of beer bellied fans raced ahead of me. I knew to save my energy as they raced off for the first base line. I ws carefree and knew I would be first into left field. I knew that Erik and Nick Pelescak would not be at the ballpark yet and I was on the clock. I would have to take advantage.
I was surprised to see some of the Pirates taking early cuts. From where I was standing Manager Clint Hurdle and 1st Base Coach Luis Silverio were in the outfield. A Pirate hit a hopper that traveled close to the wall and Hurdle had a glove and was getting it.
“Clint, may I please have that ball,” I said.
“It’s early BP, we don’t throw any of the balls up,” Clint said in his usual booming voice.
“O.K. I understand. Thanks for responding,” I replied.
“You know what? What the heck,” Hurdle said before tossing me ball #1 on the season. This was the first baseball a fan received at PNC Park this season. That was an awesome feeling. Thanks so much Clint!
With that done, I knew the relievers would be coming out very soon. I had already searched, and there were no easter eggs and when nothing was being hit out to me during early BP, I retreated to the third base side so that I would get a good chance for a toss up from a reliever. On my way up I ran into in-game host for the Pirates Joe Klimchak and we did a great handshake and man hug before I continued running.
Slowly the relievers all trickled out as well as Erik Bedard and Jeff Karstens. At this point, I had said another hello and then my buddy reliever Evan Meek came over and made a point to say hello and ask how I was doing. He is looking much thinner and may be in the best shape of his playing career. I am amazed at how healthy he looks.
The relievers then got ready to throw. Jason Grilli stopped once through his delivery to talk to me. As you may remember, he called me this off-season to discuss his business venture. He remembered my name and we talked for a little while he threw. We even were joking around with each other, and when I called him “J Grills”, we both laughed. Meek and Grilli threw together and when they were done, I asked Jason for the ball, which he tossed for ball #2. My goal for the day was three so I was one step closer to accomplishing that.
After the relievers were done throwing, they took part in a few drills and got their running in.
While they did this, I went up to Pops Plaza where I got a free Pirates shirt. It was a decent shirt, better than a lot of their t-shirt Friday shirts and frankly was just nice and simple. It was smart too because the shirt allowed them to promote the Pirates twitter account.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the screen came out, and BP started for the Pirates.
There was no competition at first base, so I went over there as it worked wonders for me last year. At this point, Erik and Nick were in left field, I decided to stay on the first baseline as there were maybe a handful of people.
I was rewarded fairly quickly, as Rod Barajas was in the first group of Pirates taking cuts. Barajas hit a cutting liner that I was able to field and catch for ball #3. Considering I have made it a goal to catch more batted balls this season, this was a huge confidence booster and a step in the right direction for sure.
Ball #4 came shortly after as Jose Tabata hit a bouncer which ended up in the seats and I scooped it up. Short, sweet and to the point.
Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez were over there when I made those plays and sure enough I figured I would have a chance to get another ball from over there so I stayed. Relievers Tony Watson and new Pirate Juan Cruz came over and I focused immediately on Juan.
It took a while since Watson was getting the balls, but when Cruz got a ball and was in earshot, I asked in Spanish. He looked at me and paused before throwing the baseball back in. Perhaps it was because Pitching Coach Ray Searage was close by, but I had succeeded and I knew he had heard me. I knew that if I continued to get in his head, he would have no choice but to throw it to me.
Sure enough a ball comes close to me and Cruz had not gotten back into position so I knew this was my chance. I asked again in Spanish and a random lady asked right after in English.
“He asked first,” Cruz said before throwing ball #5 my way. This was awesome and I knew that I had well exceeded my goal of three baseballs at that point. Muchas gracias Juan.
I then waited for the next set of hitters, and knowing that I would not get anymore toss ups, I was hoping for a baseball to get hit my way, but that would not happen. I moved to left field and essentially nothing happened so no luck for me.
I ended up with 5 baseballs on the BP which was good enough for tops on the day. It is a great feeling to know that I did a good job today. I have worked really hard towards the last few weeks of this off-season to get into shape and my stamina is up and my strength is up a little more. My confidence is also up by a lot as well. I only wish that I could have seen Phillies BP, I likely could have received a few more baseballs.
Still, five baseballs is a great way to start the season, and with clear skies tomorrow and the Pirates taking BP tomorrow I can only hope for some easter eggs and maybe a ball or two. Should be a fun day.
You have worked blood, sweat and tears for this organization this Spring, and you should be commended for your efforts. Tomorrow is Friday, and thus your first game of the season. Let’s take a look at yourselves as a team.
Chris Snyder. You are injured and thus you cannot start for us, and we are upset. Now we have to trust Ryan Doumit who we have wanted out of here for the longest time. You are defensively capable but offensively incapable. When you come back you need to be consistent.
Ryan Doumit. Who made Jack Black our team’s starting catcher? Your offense can be good but your defense is TERRIBLE. Throwing out less than 10% of runners trying to steal base is an atrocity, and you do not belong in the Major Leagues, but here you are not only in a Pirate unform but starting. Charlie Sheen thinks that you are winning, but that does not amount for much anymore. In the words of Princess Leia, you are our only hope, because Jason Jaramillo as a starter is just as bad.
Neil Walker. The Pittsburgh Kid. Considering that you had to adapt to play yet another new position is tough enough but at times you showed Gold Glove capabilities. Bill Mazeroski a Pittsburgh legend helped you with mechanics and you tried to soak it in. It is important that you do not have a sophomore slump and the city is your for the taking, and this is your make it or break it season.
Ronny Cedeno. What can I say about a man who draws Sharpies and calls them mustaches? Well you can’t hit, you can’t field, what can you do right? You give us fits and there is no one better? Why don’t we have money for a real shortstop? Here, I am going to drop a baseball. Just like i thought, through the legs. Why are you still even here?
Pedro Alvarez. Your weight is an issue, but that was even before this season. You are outgrowing your position and thus the plays that separate a good third baseman from a great one and Alvarez is only good at best. You are our offense, you mash the ball but do not get frustrated by your average as that is the way you play and you should not change that.
Jose Tabata. You have packed on the muscles and we can tell. Your speed is a must as we expect you to run around the bases all of the time. You need to mash the homers and be a part of this offense. You are a part of the future, so failure is not an option.
Andrew McCutchen. We can tell that you want to win. You are the best CF in the majors but we have some concerns. Off the field, you are a scumbag, conceited and careless. You need to start driving people in and that is a glaring part of your game. You are the future and already are a good player, but it is time to become great, don’t you think?
Garrett Jones. You can mash righties on a good basis, but based on your rookie campaign, your power numbers are down. Please hit for a good average, and who knows, maybe you or this next guy could get traded.
Matt Diaz. Time to speed up and buy into the program. You can hit lefties, but some more power needs to be seen. Let’s find out if you can handle that right field wall, no one really has.
I am calling all of you out. Along with defense, you are the main issue on this team. Ray Searage can only do so much. He doesn’t pitch the baseball, he only gives you the advice. It is your job to listen to what he has to say and to pitch with confidence. The bullpen cannot win games all by themselves (I’m talking to you Ross, Charlie and Paul) and that means you actually have to suck it up and pitch. There are no more excuses.
Despite what I just said about the starters, no one is perfect. We have been losing for 18 seasons now and you will have to come in at tight spots or when the outcome of a game has already been decided. Regardless, pitch strong and attack the hitter. Joel, please prove to us that you can choose games. You failed to do that in Washington and were a mixed bag last season. Pitch with a purpose.
Josh Rodriguez. What are you doing here? Neal said that nothing about you was special and the fact of the matter is that your precious rule-5 status is keeping you here by a thread. Our infield stinks defensively and you do not help that at all. Even in Spring Training everyone from the top of the organization to the bottom said you weren’t anything and normally would be one of the first to be sent down. You better perform or you will be let go faster than we can say bobble head.
Steve Pearce. You made the Opening Day Roster for the first time so congratulations. You were persistant and eliminated the leg kick from your swing which will help you in the log run. Best of luck on sticking in the bigs this season.
Clint Hurdle. You need to stick to your guns. This team has a ton of personality and you can handle it, but do not lose the locker room. They are completely buying in to what you are saying and that means that you need to stay relevant to them. Practice what you preach. Make sure they run and let that know that losing is NOT an option.
Tomorrow is the big day men, Opening Day is upon us in the windy city. You have worked all off-season for this. No one expects us to contend, but why can’t we? These fans deserve a winner, and it’s time to go all in and get the job done.
Pitcher with the most to prove:
1. Ross Ohlendorf- Ohlendorf is a great guy, but he only had one win last year. He pitched quite well last season but never received any run support. This year he got a huge raise in $2.1 million and he will have to pitch well and stay healthy.
2. Kevin Correia- Correia pitched himself out of the San Diego Padres rotation while they were in the middle of the playoff race. Correia pitched with a heavy heart as his brother passed away and this season will have to prove that the Pirates made a smart decision in signing him. Thus far, it has not looked like a great investment as he has looked overmatched in Spring Training, but only time will tell.
3. Charlie Morton- Morton is expected to be the team’s fifth starter, and if he pitches the way he did early last year, then the team will struggle mightily. Morton has shown that he has been capable of pitching well, bouncing back from an Andrew Jones home run earlier this week and then calming down to take down the Yankees. If Morton can control his emotions and his pitching, then it could very well inspire his teammates.
4. Joel Hanrahan- Hanrahan has emerged as the closer, but he has to prove to management that he can handle the job. He was traded from the Washington Nationals due to his inability to close games. He “shared” closing duties last year with Evan Meek, although he closed almost all of the games. He blew a few games and thus I am concerned that he cannot finish the job.
Winner: Charlie Morton
Morton showed a lot of promise as a September call-up and even further by his willingness to go to the Dominican Winter League to work on his makeup. I think this season could be the season Pirates management expected from Morton in 2009 but if he does not succeed, then the Pirates may lose their patience with him.
Hitter with the most to prove:
1. Matt Diaz- Diaz was signed during the off-season and will be splitting time in right field with Garrett Jones. This experiment happened before when the Pirates got Lastings Milledge. Milledge like Diaz said the right things, but ultimately underachieved. At this very moment, Diaz is hitting .308 this Spring and will have to perform well.
2. Jose Tabata- Tabata came up and at least in my opinion underachieved. I expected so much and his playing of left field was not great and only had speed. This off-season he has clearly bulked up and hopefully will have a much better season. He is in the Pirates future plans, but this season could be an indicator to how he does offensively.
3. Pedro Alvarez- Alvarez was rumored to gain weight this off-season in what was considered the biggest no-big deal story of the Pirates off-season. Pedro is being compared to Adam Dunn and will need to rack up the home runs and have moments like that walk-off home run in Colorado. He a huge part to the Pirates offense so if he fails, so does this team.
4. Ronny Cedeno- Cedeno is an average defender and a below average hitter. He is hitting .217 this Spring and is only starting because there is no one who can replace him, although Pedro Ciriaco is having a nice spring. Cedeno needs to have a good season, or else there will not be any real reason to keep him in the lineup.
Winner: Matt Diaz
Cedeno is right up there but Diaz is going to be a big part of the offense especially since we could always use help hitting southpaws.
Finally here are my thoughts for 2011 season predictions.
Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen
Cutch is the best all-around player on this team and should put up similar numbers to last season.
Ryan Doumit will be released and not traded.
Paul Maholm will be traded to the New York Yankees and either Matt Diaz or Garrett Jones will be traded.
Pirates will have another winning April and will once again fall apart in May
Charlie Morton will have the most wins on the staff followed by Ross Ohlendorf, although no starter will have double digit wins
Jeff Karstens will somehow get back into the starting rotation
Brad Lincoln will come up to the big club and perform well
Rudy Owens will struggle when he comes up a la Brad Lincoln. He will be Brad Lincoln 2.0
Chris Snyder will continue the catching curse and he will get injured and Dusty Brown and Jason Jaramillo will platoon a la Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz from a couple seasons ago.
Pirates will steal bases left and right… and will largely be successful
Cutch will be the Pirates lone All-Star this season
It will be the Pirates hitting that sets them back as Ray Searage will do a good job as Pirates pitching coach
The Pirates will have a 42-39 record at home and thus will have road issues once again.
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.
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.