Results tagged ‘ Neil Walker ’
I should have known better.
It started earlier in the week at work with a conversation.
“You know food prices are going to go up,” the worker asked me.
“No. Why,” was the honest reply back.
“Well it has been so hot and there has been no rain that the crops are going bad and that means food will be harder to come by,” she said.
I should have known that would be a precursor to the rain that would ensue the next three days, Wednesday’s batch I was involved in a hail storm without a hat, coat or umbrella.
So with the constant rain on Friday, it meant one thing no BP, and a lot of the ballhawks planned accordingly. Erik smartly went to Cleveland en route to a 10 ball day. If I was not working, I likely would have gone with him. Nick was texting me back and forth and smartly avoided this game of 186 games and counting as of prior to today’s game with one ball. Rick also skipped the game which was a smart call, although I wonder if he regrets not playing outside the park as he likely would have snagged Neil Walker’s game winning homer. Jim Saylor also sat it out leaving only three.
Only myself, Ian Weir and Robbie Sacunas were brave enough to ballhawk, knowing full well that there was almost no chance of BP. Of course we were right.
We were the only three to stand out and with the Pirates pitchers already in and having thrown and any possible easter eggs already confiscated, it was a lot of waiting and watching the Marlins few relievers throw. I was forced into the game as I worked and would be attending the last Pittsburgh Power game of the season. I had long odds as I had to leave PNC Park at 6 and with no BP or help in sight, it looked like my streak was finally over.
So I decided to take some pictures to pass some time.
I did pay close attention to the Marlins relievers as there were two kids and two adults that threw by us in left field. None of those balls would or should count as they are not players, coaches or employees, but whatever. Anyways, I kept my eye on the Marlins relievers as I said before and they took the balls on the middle of the field and tossed them to the ushers. I figured I would try and ask them for it but then I saw a lefty reliever, likely Michael Dunn, wind back and threw a ball onto the third deck. It was 5:20, so I tracked the section and waited a few minutes to make sure it wasn’t pocketed. None of the ushers saw it as they were cleaning it. I knew what I had to do.
So I went to the gate to go up to the 300 level and ran into ballhawks Quinn and Danny who made the trip. Poor Danny has come here twice on days where conditions were crappy and not optimal. We said quick hellos, but I was in save my skin mode at that point.
5:30 came and it was time to go. I knew I had to act quick as I was unsure if anyone else had seen the ball.
I immediately ran up and had a lead on any pursuer. It looked as though Quinn saw the ball as well and was a full staircase behind me, a comfortable margin. I am unsure if he gave up due to this deficit or if he got lost due to an unfamiliarity to the ballpark. Either way, as I continued speeding up the steps and being careful with the rain, I continued to look down occasionally, and saw I was the only one.
I immediately played guesswork with the section based on appearance. I gazed over the section and knew the area was right but could not find the baseball. Dang, I thought, an usher must have picked it up during the five minutes I was stuck waiting for the gate to open.
I was getting ready to leave the area when I decided to look one more section over as it had the same appearance from below.
I quick went up a few rows, saw this and smiled.
It wasn’t just any ball though, let’s get a close up on that:
Then I celebrated my catch with a few fist pumps. This was a huge snag and I knew my streak would continue.
Before leaving, I went to the seats and got a picture of this Pirates fan:
Lastly time for the thing that disgusts me about PNC Park. I will go with the yellow boots the grounds crew wears. It makes them look like first graders and they seem to struggle walking in them too. Just a mess and wearing those boots this season has meant either they or PNC Park operations has made a bad call about BP. Sorry… ok not really. Honesty is the best policy.
That was it for this crappy day. Back at it later today and the conditions are definitely much more encouraging.
Posing here hours later at the Power game with today’s output:
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.
Earlier this week, Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle announced that Erik Bedard will start the home opener April 5th vs the Phillies. He also named his four man rotation, which is as follows.
1. Erik Bedard
2. Jeff Karstens
3. James McDonald
4. Kevin Correia
There definitely are positives and negatives to Bedard starting:
1. Bedard will be starting his third opener, which means he knows what to expect and can tune out the distractions that surround the opener. All of the players and coaches from both teams will be introduced and things tend to run long, as the Pirates have all kinds of honors and awards and thus Bedard may be the right man for the job.
2. Bedard has looked impressive during Spring Training and Hurdle is awarding him for this. You can’t go wrong with going with a hot hand.
3. Bedard is a ground ball pitcher which favors the Pirates well. Clint Barmes and Neil Walker are a solid defensive middle infield and should have no problem handling any of the grounders that are hit their way.
4. Bedard could be a silent leader, and has had successful seasons. A great start and a win over Roy Halladay could be what this team needs. It could fire up a young pitching staff and be what makes this team finally become consistent winners.
5. Phillies hit .247 against Bedard with 19 hits in 77 at-bats. Jimmy Rollins hits .182 against Bedard with two strikeouts in 11 at-bats. Jim Thome is a .263 hitter against Bedard in 19 at-bats. While he does have a homer and two RBI against him, Thome has struck out six times against Bedard. Shane Victorino has zero hits in two at-bats against Bedard. Ty Wigginton is a .259 hitter against Bedard and has struck out nine times in 27 at-bats vs Bedard.
1. Hurdle brings a lefty out to start the opener. The Pirates do not have another lefty in the rotation, and that means that teams will face four righties in a row often times. It is not a great balance and could come back to haunt the Pirates.
2. Roy Halladay is the starter and Halladay does not make many mistakes. Bedard had a rough 2011 season which included injury. With no Ryan Howard or Chase Utley in the lineup, and Raul Ibanez on the New York Yankees, the lefty power bats are all gone. Starting Bedard would have been ideal last year, but now those lefties are gone and that strategy is out of the window.
3. Jeff Karstens had the best 2011 of the Pirates pitchers and is one of the longer tenured Pirates. Despite a few too many walks, he has been solid this Spring Training and has been consistent much like last season. It makes no sense that the Pirates do not reward Karstens by having him take the mound on the home opener. Not to mention that Karstens survived a tense atmosphere and had a very good start against the Phillies at PNC Park last season.
4. His injury history still is a concern. Yes it is a concern no matter when injuries happen, but if Bedard gets injured on the opener it would be disaster. With A.J. Burnett out and Charlie Morton likely not 100% ready for the season right now, this could put the Pirates in a downward spiral. The Pirates pride themselves on quick starts, and they already may have the toughest opening month in the majors.
Catcher- Chris Snyder just came back and is starting to produce. Ryan Doumit is still not the answer defensively and his hitting was not good either. Jason Jaramillo was sent down and was the best of the three thus far as Snyder was injured. Jaramillo continued his good hitting from Spring Training and defensively is a clear improvement over Doumit. It seemed like the team never traded Doumit and the three catchers either are good offensively or defensively but never both. Thus they all are missing a part of the game and it sets the team back.
First Base- Lyle Overbay has been a mixed bag. This “great defender” blew a play the second game of the season which cost the team a game. Overbay hit a nice home run against St. Louis, but hs hitting is not great. Much like Adam LaRoche, the lefty Overbay is known as a slow starter and this haunts the team. Overbay has not had a hit against lefties and in a power position, and he cost a good deal of money for not producing. He is going to have to do more, or else Steve Pearce may get some looks at first base.
Second Base- Neil Walker has been one of the best performing Pirates. He has picked up where he left off last season. The average is down and the strikeouts are up, however the power has improved and he is showing that he can defensively handle the second base positon. Walker will need to continue hitting like this, and he will have to hit better against lefties. He also struggled during the homestand and he will have to hit better for the hometown crowd.
Shortstop- Aki Iwamura gave up his position to Neil Walker, and if Ronny Cedeno is not careful, he could be next. Pedro Ciriaco had no reason to be sent down, especially since we have seen Cedeno and Josh Rodriguez get off to less than stellar starts. Cedeno usually starts off fast, and offensively he has not done much and he just is not getting the job done. Rodriguez has also had some good looks and he is just as bad. He was kept for his power, and I don’t see any power and I see a lack of patience at the plate. Cedeno has made a couple of spectacular plays at the shortstop position, however the routine plays such as grounders and turning the double play are just not up to snuff. Every time a grounder is hit his way, I hold my breath as it is an adventure. The shortstop position will need to produce more offensively and defensively will need to field their position.
Third base- Pedro Alvarez is expected to be the next big thing here in Pittsburgh. He is expected to be a power hitter and as a free swinger, is being compared to Adam Dunn. This season he has not met expectations. He is a notorious slow starter and in AAA last year hit in the .220’s this season. Alvarez will heat up when the weather gets hotter. His fielding is another story. His weight is in question and his fielding is inconsistent. He can make the plays half the time, and his arm strength is strong sometimes a little too strong. Steve Pearce has had looks at third and offensively hasn’t done much and defensively hasn’t done anything wrong, but hasn’t been truly tested. For all we know, he can do well but otherwise is could be another Delwyn Young experiment gone wrong.
Outfield- Jose Tabata has been the most complete player this season. He showed commitment to the team by putting on muscle and playing in the winter. He has already stolen seven bases and has added the home run to his game. He did well hitting leadoff but last night was bumped to the number two spot in the order. Despite his speed, he seems unsure in left field when he has to backpedal. Andrew McCutchen is known as a slow starter, however fans expected more from him after he tore the cover off of the ball in Spring Training. It seemed initially as though it would work as he hit two homers to start the season against the Cubs, but has since slumped. Clint Hurdle has tried to get him going again batting him leadoff but he struck out four times and was not a part of the offense. Furthermore McCutchen has as many steals for the team as I do right now- ZERO. McCutchen said at PirateFest that he wanted to have that “Ricky Henderson mentality” and know that the base was his when he would steal a base. He has looked like Lastings Milledge out there as the other day he was caught in a run-down. He like Alvarez will heat up soon. The platoon of Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones has not worked out well so far, with Jones hitting the lone homer. Diaz has been starting more as of late and he got two of the Pirates four hits on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. They need to produce now as that has been a part of the offense that has been missing. Finally we have not had a good look at John Bowker yet, but we know that he earned his spot with a solid Spring Training. He has been relegated to pinch hitting but has not done much with that. I say give him a start and see what happens.
Starters- The ace has been Kevin Correia and minus one inning on his start on Wednesday, he has pitched magnificantly. Correia gave up that homer to Fielder and was unable to field a bunt on Wednesday and that cost him, but he was able to pitch well in his previous starts. He will have to continue to pitch well as he is the ace, but I am unsure as to how long he can keep this up. Paul Maholm had his second great start on Thursday against the Brewers but took the loss giving up two runs in the first inning and was not helped by the offense or lack thereof. Paul has looked like Zach Duke at times as he has looked very hittable. He will have to be able to pitch inside more like he is trying to do. Ross Ohlendorf was the weakest looking of the starters, as he pitched ok at best in his first start against the Cubs and now is injured and Jeff Karstens has been forced back into the starting rotation when he will pitch tomorrow against the Cincinnati Reds. Charlie Morton has been nothing but stellar for the team, getting a complete game win last night. He changed his arm angle in Spring Training and the walks are finally down. I believe that before he was tipping his pitches, and now is getting a ton of groundballs due in large part to that newfound sinker. James McDonald was slated to be the team’s ace until his injury in Spring Training. I don’t have much on him, but now he should be able to pitch deeper in the games. He just needs to stop those innings where he labors. He seems to pitch 30-40 pitches in an inning and it effects how far he can go in his starts.
Bullpen- The plesant surprise has been Mike Crotta. That new sinker has proven to be vital and he already is a staple in the bullpen. Chris Resop had some trouble against the Chicago Cubs in the second game of the season, but since has looked pretty good and has picked up from where he left off last season. Joe Beimel is back off of the disabled list and we soon will find out what he has. He can be used in many different capacities and is the lone lefty in the bullpen after Garrett Olsen was designated for assignment. He was ok at best, but he was a good filler. Beimel is in his second tour of duty with the Pirates. Daniel McCutchen was called up during the season and he will now serve as the long reliever with Jeff Karstens now in the rotation. His ERA was a bit high last season and he will have to limit the mistakes. Jose Veras slow the pace of play when he pitches and earned the loss on Saturday against the Colorado Rockies when he gave up three runs in that infamous sixth inning. He has good stuff but needs to place his pitches in more adventageous positions so that he can take command of the batter. Evan Meek is finally coming back after the shoulder injury and before had a couple of bad outings in a row. Meek was sick it cost him dearly as his placement was off. He would leave pitches up to where hitters had no problem hitting him. When he came back Wednesday against the Brewers, his fastball topped at 92 when it usually tops out at 96-97 so the arm is not 100% yet. Lastly, Joel Hanrahan has done a solid job. He is not being called upon to close the game as much as the team only won one of six total games thru the first homestand. Hanrahan is the only closer in the NL Central who has not yet blown a save and he just seems to have extra competitiveness when he squares off against the hitter. Hanrahan is showing the Pirates that the made the right decision when it came to who would close the game.
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.
Yesterday on Twitter, people had a chance to ask questions of the Baseball Prospectus team. The chat went from Noon Eastern until 12:30, meaning the chat lasted half an hour. People could ask the questions and to have them answered would have to include a hashtag of #BaseballBNC.
My twitter handle is @wewill1992.
Here are the questions I asked that were answered.
Me: How do you think the Pirates will do this season?
Steven Goldman: PECOTA thinks they will do better than the Astros. Progress?
Jay Jaffe: Better than the Astros. Nucleus emerging (Alvarez/Andrew McCutchen/Walker/Tabata).
Me: Which free agent signing will mean the most to his team?
Jay Jaffe: Adam Dunn shores up big DH vortex of suck for Chisox.
Me: Who will win Rookie of the Year in both divisions?
Steven Goldman: I just did some picks, went Hellickson/Freeman.
Me: Who do you feel is the best lefty reliever in the game?
Jay Jaffe: Big Matt Thornton fan.
Me: Should more pitchers bat eighth instead of ninth?
Christina Kahrl: Works for me, as long as the skipper adjusts his tactics likewise in-game, kicking the P slot away from at-bats when possible.
Me: How much can a manager change their players?
Christina Kahrl: He can define success or failure for his relievers, and for the players he chooses to carry on his bench.
Jay Jaffe: Not sure change is the right word. Prefer: put in a position to succeed.
Me: Will steals be up or down this season?
Christina Kahrl: Up, because between the new managers and the flagging commitment to slug-only players.
Me: Which three players are most likely to be on other teams by the deadline?
Christina Kahrl: Ryan Doumit, Chone Figgins, Jason Marquis
Participating in the chat also gave me the chance to win one of ten possible copies of the 2011 book written by Baseball Prospectus. It is 600 pages full of team previews, projections, analysis and much more. I ended up winning a copy of the book and will get it delivered soon.
Yesterday it was announced that Pirates manager Chuck Tanner had passed away at the age of 82 after a long illness.
There was reaction from many in the baseball world and all reactions were positive, as that was the kind of person that Tanner was. I never personally met Tanner, but from everything I have heard from people, he was just the nicest person and great to be around.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda referred to Tanner as a “brother” when commenting on Tanner’s passing.
Current Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm noted that he enjoyed every conversation he had with Tanner was a great and enjoyable experience.
Pittsburgh-born Neil Walker understood Tanner’s impact as well, as he knew how important he was in Pirates history.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also remarked on Tanner’s legacy and what he will leave to the game of baseball.
There was so much reaction and love from Pirates fans everywhere on Facebook, Twitter and other social mediums.
If the Pirates do not observe a moment of silence on Opening Day and then make a patch on the jerseys with his name or number then it may be the lowest point in Pirates history.
Again, I did not have the pleasure of meeting Tanner, he made you feel like you knew him with his kind nature and calling him Chuck just seemed so fitting.
Shortly after the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, where Tanner received a loud ovation from the crowd, Tanner had cancer and survived which prompted Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook to ask why Tanner could not live another 30 years or so.
Regardless, Tanner won the hearts off all of Pittsburgh and he will always be remembered.
Rest in peace Chuck!
This is the second time I am writing this recap, so if I am missing something I apologize. I worked very hard on this entry the first time and then lost it all because I did not copy it incase something happened. Sure enough, the following page said that the internet could not display the page, so I am starting this entry from scratch again.
I went to PirateFest with my friend Colston. Because I feared that the line would be long, I had Colston drop me off as he had to pick up his mother. I arrived at PirateFest at 3:45 all smiles and ready for the 4:00 start time.
I did not expect the line to be as long as it was, but I did not expect 3,500 people (up 1,500 from last year’s Friday PirateFest) to show up on Friday for two reasons. The main reason was that it was season ticket friday, and the Pirates had limited the event to their biggest fans, their season ticket holders. There also was a Steelers rally which I thought would drag some Pirate fans away. These fans truly were the best of the best.
The 15 minute wait was seemingly endless, as I could not wait to get in there, as I was all the way at the back of the roped area, with a lot more people behind me. There were a few familiar faces that I saw in line though that passed the time a lot quicker. One of them was Matt Peaslee. Matt and I have had Facebook conversations and back and forth tweets and he like me has aspirations in the field of journalism. He also has a Pirates related MLBlog which you can follow here: http://pittpeas.mlblogs.com.
Finally, I saw that the gates had opened to PirateFest and the line was moving. As I went in, I passed a Pirates arch which was over where my ticket was taken. I went in and immediately received a bag with a PirateFest program, a nice pocket schedule and a 2011 Pirates calendar very similar to the one they gave away a couple of seasons ago.
When I went in, I immediately went into the MVP Zone where after checking in, I got into the surprisingly short autograph line where Garrett Jones and new Pirate Kevin Correia were signing. I had them both sign my program. I was surprised that people were not having Correia sign things. I was really looking forward to meeting him and that would have upset me if people did not want my autograph. I welcomed Kevin to Pittsburgh and he seemed to appreciate it. Garrett as usual was rather friendly and he always has been interactive with the fans.
I then caught up with Colston and we went right across from the MVP Zone to the West Penn Allegheny Health System booth where we could throw a pitch as fast as we could. The radar gun was inaccurate though as the distance was not the proper distance and although my arm was rusty and I had not hit a gym in a month or so, there was no way that I threw only 36 miles per hour. Colston did worse than I did and he threw it sidearm, but the shameful damage was done.
We then decided to walk around and see what all would be at PirateFest this year.
We quickly saw the main PirateFest stage where it was set up for the Pittsburgh Pirates version of Minute to Win It.
We saw the usual games such as dart toss, chuck-a-luck and bean bag toss. The Minor League teams also all had booths as well to promote their teams. There also was the Pirates booth where you could show your Pirates pride in a video. It was a clever idea because when you entered your information you could spread the video over Facebook, Twitter and more. Mine for some reason did not work, but I saw others post videos on Facebook that looked great. Finally, there was a booth which if you entered your information, you received a card and this card could be shown at the Pirates Prize Wheels located throughout PNC Park and you could just show the card instead of filling out endless pieces of paper. You also were entered to win Pirates signed baseballs, jerseys and more.
We then passed the Root Sports booth. Root Sports will take over what is now known as FSN and that switch will take place on April 1, just in time for the Pirates first game against the Chicago Cubs. I recorded my highlight there, which I have since posted to Facebook. The teleprompter was a little slow. When I was done, I collected a Root Sports bag, to hold my stuff and moved on.
We were walking back to the PirateFest stage when we stumbled across the radio booth and Joe Bendel of ESPN 970 AM. He had Andrew McCutchen on as a guest and we lined up to try and get a picture. A ballhawk and his father then reunited and we both talked about how excited we were for the upcoming season. With that, the interview was over and Pirates people whisked McCutchen away before anyone could do anything. I managed to get a handshake before he left. For those of you who must know, his hand was a little sweaty,
Before we took our seats, we visited the PirateFest stage where I saw my buddy Joe Klimchak. We had a nice handshake and I gave him a copy of the recent college newspaper where my article was in there.
We then took our seats at the Minute to Win It stage and started to see failure in the first two contestants. The first was a seven-year-old kid, and he could not make it past the first contest which was to suck an M&M in a straw and transport it to the other side. Initially it was five M&M’s but because of his struggles, they switched it to one. He failed both times and got a hat.
The second contestant wreaked of perfume and she failed the first time and she won the second time. She failed the next challenge though and she won a hat.
The last contestant faced the pressure of Joe who said that if he failed, he would pick somebody that he knew would make it a few rounds.
The last contestant’s name was Bob and he looked like he was in his mid 50’s and kind of looked like Santa Claus. He had his yellow Pirates Clemente jersey and his figure was Santa-esque and he had a mustache which rivaled Ray Searage. He won the first couple of rounds, and in fact, made it all the way to the final challenge.
The highlight of the game was the Junk in the Trunk challenge where Bob had a tissue box on his behind with mini balls in the tissue box. He had to dance to get the balls out and it was quite funny as he did not dance that gracefully. Still, he won the game and won some fans in the audience.
He risked all of the prizes he had earned to take part in the last challenge which was to keep three balloons up in the air for a minute. He had two chances to do this, as he never did lose before that, however he lost both times. He was barely able to hold all three balloons in his arms, and that was a bad sign. He did win four club seats though, and he might have won a hat too, I am not sure.
I then told Colston that I was going to walk around, and sure enough I ran into a ton of people and had a ton of conversations. It was nice to converse with the people.
At that point, the live taping of Inside Pirates Baseball was about to begin, and I had my camera ready as I was taking a lot of pictures of the goings on. I was going to take a picture of Stan Savran prepping to do the show, but without saying a word, Stan actually turned around and smiled. I knew that this was going to be fun.
As the show started, Rob King came in, as he prepared to do the intro with Stan. At the start of the show, I was the lone person in the crowd and I was right behind Stan. A lot of people later told me that they saw me, and I had recorded the episode, so I was excited to see the result.
As Rob and Stan were doing their intro, a familiar face started to appear, it was Evan Meek. I slowly walked over to him and we proceeded to have a quick conversation. He said to me,” Hey Zac, Squirrel Hill, right?” We continued our conversation as he went for the pound, and it was great, but soon after he told me that he had to go sign autographs with Jose Tabata in the MVP Zone. We parted ways, and I was more excited than ever. In fact, it was cool to see the fans that started to surround me and give me surprised looks. They seemed shocked that I knew Evan and the looks on their faces were priceless.
After that, Stan revealed who would be on the show and shortly after I saw Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting. I decided to pose for a picture with him. The picture ended up failing though as someone called his name at the last second and he did not look into the camera. We had to do a second shot, and that one went a lot better.
I also got to meet Manager Clint Hurdle for the first time. He was very nice to all of the fans, and I was very impressed by the things he said throughout the night. I posed for a picture with him as well and we parted ways with a handshake.
I stayed at the Inside Pirates Baseball show for a good 30 minutes before I went back over to the PirateFest stage. It was at this point where my back gave out because of the hours of standing.
I remained standing for Ask Pirates Management, as the area was crowded and soon after ran into Colin Dunlap the new Pirates beat writer. I found out that we shared many of the same concepts and beliefs about the Pirates. We both are optimistic about the future and think that Ronny Cedeno does not belong in the big leagues. We parted ways, as he was transcribing some of the Q&A alongside of Jen Langosch. We would meet again later in the day as he was getting ready to leave, and I believe that our paths will cross again soon.
I then sat back down for the regular Q&A with all of the Pirates players (sans Jeff Karstens, Jose Tabata and James McDonald) and coaches. One little kid asked Andrew McCutchen for his autograph and McCutchen did sign for him, although soon after jealous others asked McCutchen for his autograph and he said “we’ll see” (he left immediately after).
The weirdest question of the night was directed towards Garrett Jones. A man asked that of Jones, “Hypothetically if my daughter was to marry you (Jones has a girlfriend), which player on the team would be your best man?” After some laughter from the audience and some puases from Jones, the answer turned out to be Steve Pearce. The questioner then thanked Jones who whispered the word “awkward” into the mic. Also worth noting is that Neil Walker will use fellow Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” when he steps up to bat this season.
After Q&A was over, I got to redeem the free meal that I received upon entry at PirateFest and got myself a hot dog, Cracker Jack and some lemonade.
When I came back, I ran into Randy Page, better known as “Big Yellow” and we exchanged a handshake and a quick conversation. He ended the conversation, as he was going over to PirateFest field to partake in the Perogie Eating Competition, which he won. We caught up at the end of PirateFest where he told me about the win.
I sat down and watched Deal or No Deal and saw Evan Meek and Garrett Jones as bankers. By the second game, they started going easier on the contestants. Again the prize was the 20 game season ticket plan, which was useless as we all were season ticket holders.
The last contestant won the big prize and everyone was happy for her as she was an older lady and walk using a walker. She was helped up and down the stage by Meek and Bob Walk, the announcer of the game.
With that, all of the stage games were over and things were wrapping up for PirateFest. A lot of the season ticket holders had already left, and the MVP Zone no longer was doing autographs, so kids were playing Wii Sports, while others played pool and relaxed on the chairs.
My father was about ready to pick me up, and I was bundled up ready to go outside, but at the last minute took a picture with President Frank Coonelly before I left.
I had a lot of fun at Friday’s PirateFest and would be back Sunday for much more. My next post actually will be my Super Bowl Prediction and then I will make a post for Sunday’s PirateFest.
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.
I was on the Pirates website and saw all kinds of pictures for some of the promotions. Also as a side note, I also found that the band Train who is famous for singing songs such as “Drops of Jupiter”, “Calling All Angels”, “Hey Soul Sister” and “If It’s Love” will be performing at the final Skyblast of the year on August 6. Here are the pictures of the promotions. A lot of these promotions (5 of them are for kids), the first promo is a celebration of the 1971 World Series Champions and also of note the Neil Walker bobblehead is the first bobblehead sponsored by Root Sports which will replace Fox Sports in the Spring :