It has been a total of 15 excruciating days since I was last at my summer home, PNC Park. On Friday night I met my best friend Andrew in Pittsburgh to help open the weekend series with the Braves. I’ve said it before that Pittsburgh is a de facto halfway point for Morgantown and Youngstown.
The traffic into the city was horrendous. Parking was hard to come by once I escaped the bumper to bumper mess. It honestly was the worst I have ever seen the North Shore set up prior to a Pirates game. I expected a packed house with a shot at a sellout.
It was far from that. The announced attendance was just 22,000, still a decent crowd but with most tickets $7 dollars and a sweet Andrew McCutchen canvas photo wrap giveaway there should have been more people.
Many of the people were college kids, around my age. It is weird to be a Pirates fan in and around Pittsburgh for someone younger than the age of 25. There really has been a generation of Pirates fans lost thanks to the 17 straight losing seasons. I really do wish it was cool to be a Pirates fan but until that happens I’ll be stuck surrounded by hooligans who only go to the game to drink, meet with friends and start the wave while not paying attention to the game at all. Baseball ignorant people rub me the wrong way when I go to the park to enjoy a couple hours of a ballgame and to escape the outside world. PNC Park is my santuary for peace.
Anywho, the Pirates lost 7-0 and only managed four hits. Nothing went well for the Bucs. I expected a strong performance out of starting pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, but this guy made sure that didn’t happen.
The Jay-Hey kid (I really do not like that nickname, it is cool no doubt but Willie Mays is the only one who should have that rhyming distinction). The 20-year old (I still can’t get over the fact that I’m older than this guy, I should be a Major League player!) belted a two run homer and teed off for a double. He will be fun to watch as I have already dubbed him the next Ken Griffey Jr. He has the marketabilty and is easy to connect with.
This was the at bat that Heyward went deep in. You always see those flashbulbs going off when a big player steps to the plate. While it seemed that I was the only one snapping a picture of the future star I’m sure that in a few years ballparks will be flickering when he is at bat.
The night didn’t end after the blowout.
I met up with my friend Erin who is a regular reader of the blog. She recently graduated from Pitt and yes I do old that against her. However, she is an awesome girl who rivals me in terms of Pirates knowledge and passion. She also is in love with Nate McLouth. A man that I can just not respect anymore.
The reaction to McLouth’s return to Pittsburgh was underwhelming. It was almost unheralded completely but there were more cheers than boos. I missed his first at bat as Andrew and I fought for parking while we made the game in the bottom of the second inning.
I couldn’t think of a better way to end the night than drinking away my sorrows of a shutout. We went to the Hall of Fame Club located below the scoreboard in right field. It is a cool place to hang out before of after the game and even watch the game from the deck area outside. Every so often there are former players and local celebrities that come by the HOF Club to pour drinks for patrons. Customers were treated to an appearance by one of the most famous Pirates of the last 20 years, Andy Van Slyke.
I do not remember much about Van Slyke as I was just around the age of three when he played. He autographed my program and fielded questions from thirsty guests. He said “There’s no doubt Barry Bonds used steroids” and “He was a jerk and a terrible teammate.” I told him I was a fan of the Tigers because at one time he was a coach for Detroit along with my favorite manager Jim Leyland. Former Pirate managers Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon were also on that staff. Literally the Detroit Pirates. Andrew brought up the Tigers-Twins playof play in game of last year dubbing it “the bets baseball game of all time.” Van Slyke agreed saying “it rocked.”
Speaking of Van Slyke it was fitting we met him on that given night. A parking garage between Heinz Field and PNC Park notes their levels based on fmaous Pittsburgh athletes. We just so happened to park on the Andy Van Slyke level.
Now that was not our only coincidence of the night. There was a second that also has to do witha Pittsburgh celebrity.
Remember Erin? Pitt fan. Back in the Hall of Fame club we ran into the only person I respect at that school, basketball coach Jamie Dixon.
After shaking his hand I asked for the picture and then told him that I may get in trouble for this because I am a die hard West Virginia fan. He showed nothing but class and laughed at me. He boasted about Bob Huggins saying he is a first class gentleman and a great friend. I wish I would have taken my jacket off to show off my WVU shirt underneath. It was a once in a lifetime chance but I guess I took the high road and displayed an ounce of respect.
Once again it was a fun night, as all nights are in Pittsburgh, as all nights involving baseball are. Saturday’s game was not televised and I’m actually glad it wasn;t as Pittsburgh fell to ATL again. However Saturday’s game was on and boy was it grand. Ryan Doumit hit a walk off home run in the tenth inning to avoid the sweep.
The Pirates were taking on the Orioles in an interleague play game in which my Bucs were up 6-0 at one point. Final score: 9-6 Baltimore. I was harrased, made fun of and spat at. Well not spat at but I thought I would be.
Monday night was much more charming. After all I was in the Charm City.
The Orioles did fall to the Kansas City Royals 4-3 and the weather was a bitter cold 45 degrees with a heavy drizzle falling throughout the nine innings, but I did enjoy myself as a neutral fan.
Appearing in my National League hat I kept my loyalty to “real, stern” baseball in an American League town. I hate when someone wears an item of a team not playing to a game so I with held from any Pirates gear. My buddies Andrew, Bryan and Ryan were clad in their Orange hoping for some Orioles magic that never seemed to come. Andrew is my friend from WVU and with a name like Schuerholz you have to be a baseball fan, i’ll touch more on that later. Bryan and Ryan are friends of Drew’s who I have become close with over the years.
Bryan had a dang cool homemade poster. Based on the Sesame Street logo and the street running parallel to Camden Yards, Eutaw Street. Brian Bergeson took the hill for the O’s Monday night. Bryan gave Bergeson a cool nickname that completed the sign perfectly, “Big Berg.” No not Big Bird, Big Berg! Pretty cool if I do say so myself.
While I did cheer for the hometeam to appease my friends I had a much bigger reason to root on the Orioles. One of my favorite baseball players of all time dons the black and orange, Corey Patterson.
Corey and I have had a long relationship. Mostly just me with Corey but here is how that got started. He was on the cover of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly when he was drafted by the Cubs in 1998. I was impressed with this up and comer and made it gospel that I collect as many cards of his as I could. While Patterson never even came close to living up to his billing I made out like a bandit coming across nearly 30 cards of him. I think it is safe to say I am his biggest fan. It was great to see him play in person for the first time. He scored the only three runs for Baltimore and on Tuesday belted a solo homerun to spark a come from behind win for the O’s. Watch out boys and girls, Corey is back!
Here are some more sights and sounds (well just sights, because you cannot hear any of this blog) from a very fun night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Unique monument area behind the gate in center field. It honors the retired numbers of the Orioles. I like that it is outside the physical boundaries of the stadium so fans can enjoy it on non gamedays.
The bird mascot was just chilling on the ledge out of the pressbox. It is a kind of high drop. I was worried he would fall. But he must have much better depth perception than me as he was perched there comfortably for 2 innings. He is a bird after all.
If only players today could be as respectable as Cal Ripken Jr. He was one of my favorites growing up. I love how he will always be adored by the Baltimore faithful. But PNC, come on! I know you sponsor many East Coast baseball teams but you do the most good for the Pirates. WIth PNC Park you should be restricted to just Pittsburgh. However rumors are floating around that due to the Pirates poor play PNC wants out of their contract early.
Out on Eutaw Street there are about 25 baseball shaped plaques, like this one, marking where balls have landed over the years. There have been some pretty deep shots including one that hit the famed wearhouse behind right field. This one was hit by one of my favorite players of the 90′s, Mo Vaughn.
Exiting the stadium on the walk back to the car this church sign delievered a blessing message to its beloved baseball fans, escpecially those in the AL East.
The real reason I was in Baltimore was for the West Virginia-Towson game on Tuesday, no really that is the reason. I had an off day giving tours so I made the trip representing my other job at WVU as beat writer for the baseball team. It was cool to be at my first away game although the crowd was miniscule it was a great time for a handful of reasons.
Two, the game was free for everybody.
The Mountaineers need
momentum heading into their final series of the year in hopes of clinching a spot in the Big East tournament. I talked to the coach after the game and wrote my articles to be published in the paper tomorrow.
Three, it was great to see a college campus. I love checking out different universities to see how it compares and contrasts with WVU in Morgantown. Like I do on any campus with a statue of their mascot (ie Pitt and Colorado) I have to take it out for a spin. Although he was a little wet from the rain that was drizzling all day the Towson Tiger was a quality landmark on a very nice campus.
The Fourth and final reason why it was an awesome day goes back to the baseball inspired name of Schuerholz. I’ve mentioned before that Andrew’s uncle is John Schuerholz. Former general manager of the Royals and Braves and current President of the Braves. The baseball field at Towson University is named in his honor as he went to school here and played baseball.
Although small, the field is very nice and something the family and Andrew are very proud of. I enjoyed it too along with my grand two days in Maryland. I capped it off with a delicious crabcake. I only eat them when I am in Maryland, only because I know that any where else they will simply be mediocre. I only dabble with the best!
The Cubbies have not won the World Series since 1908.
They also haven’t won a a game against the Pirates since September 29, 2009.
The Offense of the Pirates has been ignited all season when they are matched up with Chicago.
The Pirates put up 10 runs on Friday and have collected 26 runs thus far against the Northsiders.
Why the surge?
Look no further than the faces of the organization.
Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones made history Friday afternoon becoming the first teammates since 1999 to record five hits each while hitting a homerun.
Cutch went 5-for-5 with homer, Jones 5-for-6 with a three run blast.
It really has been a tale of two seasons for these two young men. Just establishing themselves last season in their rookie years the tandem had big, pressure filled roles placed upon their shoulders entering this season.
Andrew has lived up to the expectations. Garrett has not. At least until Friday.
McCutchen has been the unquestioned leader of his team. Batting a team leading .336 with a .522 slugging percentage.
Jones has been slow, but is finally turning his underperforming season around. The power he showed last year (21 homeruns in just a half a season of play) and at the start of this season (two home runs in his first two at bats of the season). Jones and McCutchen are tied for the team lead with five dingers. He has brought his Mendoza line BA up to a respectable .264.
He may never live up to the legend he built himself up to be last season, but Jones can prove he is a legitimate threat in this otherwise depleted lineup.
Currently Jones has struck out with the bases loaded in an attempt to add to the Pirates 3-2 lead over the Cubs. They scattered their only three runs in the first inning but have continued to get on base. This is a big series for not only the Bucs as they try to keep their win streak alive over a division opponent. It is also big for myself and other Pittsburgh fans.
For every run the Pirates score one dollar comes off the price of a Left field or Right field ticket for next week’s series against the Braves. Currently those tickets will be just $11 dollars. They are great seats regularly priced at $24 dollars. 11 more runs and yep, they are free! I’m hoping for a few more insurance runs and bigger discount. I’d love to be at the ballpark for cheap next weekend!
phot credits: postgazette.com
On the left we have Jody Gerut. Journey man who was once a prized prospect for the Indians.
On the right, Dallas Braden. An outspoken man who has been at the heart of criticism over his own criticism of Alex Rodriguez.
Both Gerut and Braden have been favorite players of myself. This weekend just skyrocketed them near the top.
Gerut was a Cleveland Indian and the best they had for a while in the mid 2000′s. He was traded to the Pirates in a trade deadline move and I was pretty pumped. He never lived up to the hype in Cleveland and therefore couldn’t cut it as a Pirate. He barely played half a season, to be frank, just four games. He was injured and later became an after thought to Pirate fans and the baseball world.
On Saturday night he made a name for himself and surpassed the potential he demonstrated floating around in the Minors of the Tribe. In my opinion the cycle is the most exciting accomplishment in baseball. Every time I am at a game I make sure to check each batter’s hits just to make sure that the could be flirting with that single, double, triple and HR. Twice in the past year I have been a single away. One being with Nate McLouth, the other Garrett Jones. I hope Gerut continues to have a solid career. He will always have May 8, 2010 to fall back on if he doesn’t.
I have been a Braden fan for about two weeks now. He has had many pundits on his case for jawing at A-Rod for crossing across the mound during a game. I’m sticking up for Braden simply because Rodriguez needs to show respect. His cocky attitude already preceeds him and he treats the game like it is below him. You just don’t go and step on the pitcher’s mound like that. I compare it to stepping across someones line on the putting green while playing golf.
Braden dominated the Rays on Sunday. The Rays! Now they haven’t been the offensive juggernaut as they have relied on great pitching. But they are no slouches at the plate especially with Evan Longoria batting over .320 near the top in the AL.
I also like Braden for a much deeper reason. He lost his mother to cancer when he wa sin high school. To become the 19th pitcher in history to hurl a perfect game on Mother’s Day with his mom watching from above is awe-inspiring. I’d be crying my eyes out at the end of the day. My mother means so much to me, I cannot imagine losing her, especially as a high school senior ready to embark on a successful life’s journey of baseball.
I was lucky enough to be with my mom on Mother’s Day. I am so lucky to have had her throughout my young life. She is the one who plans all our baseball trips and has slowly warmed up to the sport her sons and husband love so very much.
Thank you for all that you do mom! And to all Mother’s…HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY
In a word, the Pirates were dominant, scoring five runs in the opening frame.
The Pirates played a persistent, strong game throughout the contest. Very uncharacteristic of the lovable losers.
The three game series sweep was the Pirates first over the Cubs since August 30, 2006.
While no homeruns wer ehit in the blowout, doubles came supreme. In fact Lastings Milledge rocked a near grandslam just two feet away from me in left field. Look closely at the below picture. On the left is my arm pointing out at Alfonso Soriano.
The ball hit the top of the wall and bounced back into play. However it looked as if it would clear. Fireworks are going off, “They Hey Song” is playing, everyone thinks its a dinger. Even Milledge. He trotted around the bases and was tagged out rounding second. I cannot me too mad at him. He shouldn’t be looking at the ball, the extracurricular activities led him to believe it was a home run. In the end it was just his second double of the game.
Beyond the stats and onfield play this game meant a lot more. Pride was on the line.
My WVU buddy Marc is a die-hard Cubs fan. Growing up in West Virginia the Cubs were his t-ball team. Continuing to follow his team some 15 or so years later Marc is almost like a transplanted fan from the streets of Wrigleyville. The last time I was at a game with him the Cubs scored eight runs in the first inning en route to a 14-3 beatdown. Lets just say the taste of revenge was almost as sweet.
With a handful of Cub fans around us he was in somber company and had more than enough shoulders to cry on. A lot of ribbing was going on by a pair of drunks behind us. These guys were around our age and pounding over priced beers like it was their job. They were making fun of everyone in their general area including Marc in his “Theeeeeeeriot” jersey, the charismatic ederly man with his young granddaughter and the cute West Virginia girls who we struck up a converstations with. They were dissing the Pirates left and right, had no baseball knowledge and took the joy out of me greatly. Marc was the most ticked I had ever seen him. The happy go lucky Southern boy had his fuse lit but kept his emotions in check.
After the game Marc owed me a little something. A beer. We had a bet riding on the game and we had a nice sit down at Mullens, a sports bar on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. There we engaged with chats from a University of Colorado grad, numerous Cubs fans, a guy who knew Lou Pinella and this charming guy.
Communicating in sign language and written notes the guy was very nice and was bubbly to everyone in the bar. He was mute but did not let his handicap keep him from having a good time and supporting his Buccos.
From the bar we ran into Frank Coonelly, Pirates President. Nice fellow, said my name again after I introduced myself which is always a sign of respect. Now there were two pertinent messages I could have told Mr. Coonelly,
1. To read my blog! Doubt he would have but shoot I may never see him again could have at least told him about it.
2. My buddy Andrew Schuerholz was also with us, his uncle is John Schuerholz, President of the Braves. Either would have sufficed and created a great convo. But knowing Coonelly’s background as an attorney I told him that Marc was interested in law school.
Speaking of Marc, he needed a pitstop on the way to the car and enjoyed the beautiful skyline of the city of Pittsburgh (recently ranked the USA’s most livable city by Yahoo).
However I will leave you with a snippet of information when visiting Pittsburgh or any big city for that matter. Do not stop walking. Homeless people and creeps are always abound and danger could strike at any second. We learned that tonight. Mom and Dad if you are reading this no need to freak out. We’ve all seen it before and know how to handle ourselves.
Bring on Pujols and the Cardinals! The Bucs are in 3rd place!
He led off Saturday’s game against the Dodgers putting the first run on the board, a solo shot in the first inning.
The blast was his 4th of the year and the homerun that brought him the most attention since last year’s 3-homer night at PNC Park.
As McCutchen was rounding second base he looked to give a little fist pump. There was no doubt he was excited as he is a fiery player who tends to show his emotions, a good thing in my opinion.
The Didgers did not think so. And neither did Pirates color analist Bob Walk. Walk, a former pitcher, said he was and would have been upset with McCutchen’s actions when he was a MLB starting pitcher and as a player today.
In the fifth inning Dodger’s relief pitcher, veteran Ramon Ortiz sent messages to Cutch. Not a message. Messages.
Two pitches brushed the back of McCutchen. Back to back pitches, no way they could have “gotten away” from Ortiz. The two pitches come after a pair of Bucco batters were plunked earlier in the game as well. After the at-bat McCutchen was visibly upset as he walked to the dugout jawing at the field and what looked like other teammates.
Pirates starting pitcher Zach Duke had an oppotunity to settle the score against Ortiz and the
Dodgers. He went back on the hill and went back to work as usual. Even when Ortiz stepped to the plate, such a rare occurance for a relief pitcher, Duke did not come inside.
Now I am torn. Part of me thinks Duke and manager John Russell took the high road. They looked at this objectively and knew that throwing at Ortiz or any Dodger would be disrespectful and even childish.
However, if I was McCutchen I would feel betrayed. I would expect my teammates and my manager to stand up for me. He goes up there night in and night out and busts his butt for the team to apparently not be as appreciated or valued.
After the game when asked about the scenrio Duke said he “dropped the ball” in regards to not protecting McCutchen. Post-Gazette reporter Dejan Kovacevic reported that the mood was very somber and angry after this 5-1 loss to LA.
Outfielder Ryan Church seemed offended regarding the issue saying “It stinks. You don’t throw at somebody’s head.” Referring to McCutchen’s noggin.
Now when Duke was pulled from the game in favor of reliever Jack Taschner, he came in with a bang. The first batter he faced was Andre Eithier. The first pitch he threw sailed behind Eitheir. The dust settled there for the night.
The Pirates are now 10-15. They return home to face the Cubs. And I must go back to my finals studying.
photo credits: mizuno.com, AP-dodgers.scout.com