Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh is always busy on a weekday in the mid-afternoon. People fill the area on their lunch breaks in hopes of refueling with coffee, soup or a sandwich before the last few hours of the workday.
On Monday, downtown workers were re-energized in a new way.
To honor the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates, the city, Allegheny County and the ball club sponsored a rally that attracted thousands of fans. With a DJ blasting James Brown, Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire, it felt like a scene straight from the 1970s. Of course, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge wasn’t far behind.
The crowd cheered as the Pirate Parrot waved a giant Jolly Roger before Wiz Khalifa’s”Black and Yellow” played. It was a fitting transition from the era of Willie Stargell to the present peak of Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker.
Aboard a charter bus directed by a police escort, members of the Pirates front office and other club officials were dropped off to loud cheers. People grasped for their camera phones as president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle stepped off the bus. Joining them were Pirates coaches, along with catcher Michael McKenry and pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jeff Karstens.
Announcer Greg Brown served as the master of ceremonies for the 15-minute event, filled with Pittsburgh pride and cautious optimism for Tuesday’s National League wild card game against the Cincinnati Reds.
“Clint Hurdle came here wanting to re-bond a city with its baseball team,” Brown said. “He’s done that.”
City officials unveiled a large “We Love You, Bucs” banner and gave speeches, too. Coonelly also took to the mic with strong sentiments and declaring he wants a parade (in honor of a World Series championship) down Grant St. in three and a half weeks.
That fired up the crowd for another moving quote by Hurdle.
“We thank you, the fans,” Hurdle said. “It just goes to show you that the human heart is the most amazing muscle in the body. We have twisted yours for 21 years. What you’re feeling out there today is significant and it’s special. These men are feeling the same way.”
The rally ended with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which has served as the team’s unofficial fight song and shortstop Clint Barmes’ at-bat music for much of the 2013 season.
For the thousands of revelers who stood in the shadow of PPG Place on Monday, there is belief. It’s a belief that won’t leave the city until nearly 40,000 people descend to PNC Park on Tuesday. It will only expand from there when Francisco Liriano takes the hill.
Though short, the Pirates’ rally gave just the right spark to a city already filled with playoff fever.