Pittsburgh Pirates Make PirateFest 2014 An Interactive Success


They say the best things in life are free.

In years past the memories at PirateFest were priceless, whether they were with players, coaches, fans, broadcasters or friends. This year getting into PirateFest was priceless – unless you spent $20 for an autograph – and it was much improved over last year’s version.

No the casual fan did not see Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Tony Watson, Travis Snider or Pedro Alvarez among others, but did it really matter? Snider in his defense got married Saturday so congratulations to him.

Instead the Pirates fans got the most player involvement I have ever seen. This is not a slight to the players listed above but rather a great job by those who organize PirateFest. The players were more enthusiastic than ever before and consistently had smiles on their faces. This is truly what PirateFest is all about, thanking the fans, both old and new for their support all season.

Last year, too much emphasis was placed on the fans that either had rejoined or became Pirates supporters for the first time. This year it felt as though there was something for everyone. Even if you did not pay for the autographs, various Pirates took pictures, placed phone calls, signed items and interacted with fans throughout the two day event. The Pirates truly appreciate their fans.

A lot of interesting things came out of PirateFest and were said by players, coaches and management alike.

First I will touch on the new Pirates alternate uniforms which will be worn on Thursday home games. The Pirates cited their dedication to honor the military as reason for this change. There are eight Thursday home games on the season.

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I actually found out 10 minutes before the announcement from a Pirates executive that this was going to be the uniform and that internet rumors which surfaced earlier in the week were correct. Based on social media reactions, people are not pleased with the uniforms but wearing them eight times out of 162 games should not be too much for the disapproving fans to take.

Ray Searage was in a great mood Saturday when I was at PirateFest. He was full of jokes including referring to manager Clint Hurdle as RoboCop, mentioning his man crush of A.J. Burnett and jokingly referring to his mound visits as a way to remind his pitcher to get batters out so he can drink his beer faster. One thing he did not joke about was Gerrit Cole.

Searage said Cole had some growing pains but he told fans Saturday that the turning point came on his May 29 start against the Los Angeles Dodgers and June 3 at San Diego. Cole was pitching in front of his family against the Dodgers and tended to overthrow citing an “all or nothing attitude.” After his start against San Diego, Cole felt the shoulder pain and started his string of injuries.

Searage said that when Cole was in the minors that he “learned how to pitch.” Now, Searage believes Cole is a more complete pitcher. Cole no longer forces himself to throw 98 miles per hour on every pitch, instead having his fast ball range from 92-95 miles per hour to save energy and only throwing harder when he absolutely needs to. Now Cole will be expected to take the next step as the ace of the staff.

When it came time for the annual Pirates Q&A with all of the players and coaches at PirateFest, A.J. Burnett was clearly the most popular among the fans. Burnett said to the fans that this was his last season and that he only wanted to come to the Pirates in the offseason. He informed those in attendance that outside of winning the 2009 World Series, being with the Pirates was his the most fun he’s had while donning a baseball uniform. He apologized to fans for leaving this past season. Burnett said while he was closer to his family, Philadelphia was not for him, which the crowd ate up.

The best news about PirateFest was that Kent Tekulve made a public appearance and is in great spirits. Tekulve’s battles have been well noted in recent months but he told me that he would be going to Bradenton for Spring Training which is a great sign. Just seeing Tekulve made the PirateFest experience 10 times better and warmed my heart.

PirateFest usually is a way to satisfy each fan’s baseball hangover. This year’s edition in particular may have been the best I’ve attended. I cannot speak for anyone else and their own individual experiences but if this weekend did not excite you for the 2015 season, then I am not sure what will.