February 2011

Valentine’s Day – Spring Training 2011 Begins

Valentine’s Day brought the first workout for many Major League Baseball Teams.  The Pirates first workout was today in Pirate City. 

The Pirates have made some changes from their 2010 105-loss team.  Gone are manager John Russell and under performers Zach Duke, Adam LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, and Delwyn Young.  In are new faces such as Kevin Correia, Matt Diaz, Scott Olsen, Joe Beimel, and Lyle Overbay.

One interesting thing that the Pirates are featuring this year are the Spring Training Jerseys, which will also be used during batting practice. 

Pedro Ciriaco gets ready to take some cuts:
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Ryan Doumit runs through some catching drills:
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Unfortunately, I didn’t take these pictures, they were posted by Pirates Tribune Review beat writer Rob Biertempfel.

I will be headed down to spring training in early March though – so keep an eye out for that!

In the meantime, on Sunday Feb 13th, when the Pirates were checking in at Pirate City, we were taking advantage of the 45 degree temperatures, exploring a trail along the Monongahela River.
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amy jabs.jpgWhat began as dinner by the river, ended in a hunt for a beaver dam, as we encountered at least 40 trees that beavers had chopped down and dragged away.
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DSC00188.JPGA look at a tree that was just too much for a beaver to take down.
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We spent about an hour on this little ‘adventure,’ but failed to find any dams, despite looking all along the river.
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The next day, while the Pirates were working out in Florida, I was enjoying Valentine’s Day.

I decorated a table and served breakfast:
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Went to work, came home, and went on a dinner and dancing cruise on the Gateway Clipper.
DSC00201.JPGA view of downtown from the Gateway Clipper as we approached from the Allegheny:
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Passing PNC Park:
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I also took a video of us passing PNC Park.

It was like 25 degrees with 30 mph wind, so I was quite frozen after taking that video – you’re welcome.

I’m looking forward to the 2011 season so I have some more baseball related stuff to report on.

By the way, check out the awesome Valentine’s Day gift I received:
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It’s a custom made baseball case in the shape of home plate that displays 30 baseballs.  Each shelf has tiny divots for the balls to be placed in.

The case has a lock and key too!  It opens from top to bottom.
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This means I’m going to have to start compiling a list of the top 30 balls from my collection of 1,122.

Punxsutawney

There’s nothing more that I am looking forward right now than spring.  We decided to be there in Punxsutawney to see what Phil had to say on Groundhog Day.
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We got up at 4AM, and after a shower and packing lunches, made it to Punxsutawney by 6AM.  It is a small town about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.  Every year on February 2nd, a groundhog, known as Phil, emerges from his slumber and prognosticates the weather.  If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  If he doesn’t, there will be an early spring.  This was the 125th Groundhog day, and the weather wasn’t cooperating.  We faced freezing rain on the drive there.

The first thing we did upon arriving was park at WalMart and buy shuttle tickets to Gobbler’s Knob. 
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There’s no parking there, so the only way to get there are on buses – unless you want to walk 1.5 miles.
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Upon our arrival at Gobbler’s Knob,
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we were greeted by pre-dawn fireworks from Zambelli.  They were decent.  The grand finale was pretty nice, but of course I didn’t record it.  Here’s a brief video of what I got:

Yeah, not the greatest video.  I was dealing with freezing rain, mud, and ice everywhere.  It was pretty messy.  We made our way over to a fire for where we stood and warmed up for a few minutes, before heading over to the hill where a large crowd had gathered.

Check out the hats that we were sporting:
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Unfortunately, my camera’s batteries died, and I didn’t have any backups, so the rest of the pictures had to be taken on my mini video recorder.

Here’s picture of the festivities:
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and the crowd. 
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I would estimate four or five thousand, a far cry from the ten to fifteen that they’ve had in previous years.  But, the weather was pretty bad.

The pre-Phil entertainment featured several dancers, and three members of the inner circle who danced around in anticipation of Phil’s forecast.

Video 1:

Video 2:

The man with the goatee in the top hat was rather entertaining to watch.  He was doing his best to be cool.  Anyway, after 7AM, dawn was just around the corner, and it was time for the National Anthem:

Afterwards, members of the exclusive inner circle made their way through the crowd with a police escort and onto the stage.
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The president of the inner circle then explained to the crowd what was about to happen.

Two handlers knocked on the stump, and pulled Phil out, holding him in the air for all to see.  They then placed him on top of the stump platform and gathered around.  After some tension filled seconds, a verdict was reached.

You can watch the video here:

Phil did not see his shadow, which meant spring is just around the corner!  It was the 16th time in the past 125 years that he didn’t see his shadow.

I was happy.
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Afterwards, there was an opportunity to go down to the stage and have pictures taken with Phil and the inner circle, but it was freezing.  So we left.
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And got into large lines to board a bus to take us back into town.
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so we were looking forward to hopping back on the bus and doing some exploring in town.

Once we got into town, were had to be wary of not just ice,
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but religious activists who were seemingly on every street corner passing out pamphlets.
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There’s not much to downtown Punxsutawney,
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but there are Groundhogs everywhere.  Literally everywhere.  There are thirty of them hidden around the town.  We posed with some of them.

Summer Groundhog:
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High Five!
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Holding a Lantern:
DSC00129.JPGFlowery Groundhog:
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McDonald’s Groundhog:

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We also put out faces in groundhog cutouts.    There were groundhogs everywhere.
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DSC00142.JPGUp until this time, the weather had cooperated.  There was some freezing rain early this morning, but other than that, it had just been cold and damp.  Until the skies opened up with a hail storm:

Luckily, we found shelter underneath a store awning until it passed.
We spent some time in the stores, bought a few souvenirs, and then headed home before noon.

It was a great little trip. 
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We visited my dad in the hospital on the way back. 
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He had some invasive surgery that will knock him out of action for Spring Training, but it went smoothly and he’s recovering there.  He’s gone with me the last four years.

Spring is just around the corner.  Spring Training is less than 10 days away as I sit here writing.  Get ready.

1-30-11 Piratefest Day 3

We were back at Piratefest on Sunday for the third and final day of the three day weekend baseball event.  The Pirates had sent me six tickets, so I sold two, used two on Friday, and saved the last two for today.

Before heading to Piratefest, I was treated to breakfast at a restaurant named DeLuca’s in the Strip District. 
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I had never been to DeLuca’s let alone the strip district, so this was a nice little adventure for me.  DeLuca’s proclaims to have the ‘Best Breakfast in Town,’ and the large line that was waiting outside in the cold drizzle. 
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We waited for about twenty minutes before getting into the small, packed restaurant.    One of the restaurant’s claim to fame is being featured on the Man vs Food series.

We had pancakes…
Chocolate strawberry pancakes for her:
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And blueberry pancakes for me:
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I also had a side of sweet sausage, which tasted much better than it looked.
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The food was great, and it filled me up until 5 PM.  I wasn’t crazy about the interior Steeler decorating, especially after being hassled at every corner by street vendors selling Steeler pennants and buttons.  I’m looking forward to the Super Bowl being over so this town settles down.
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Anyway,

When we got to the David L Lawrence Convention Center around 11:40, twenty minutes before the doors were to open, we were greeted by a monstrous line that snaked around and to the back of the convention center. 
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It took us about 10 minutes after the gates opened to finally get into Piratefest.

When we entered, we headed over to the MVP Zone to get autographs from Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf.
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I had Ross sign my calendar since he signed a ball for me yesterday.  Paul Maholm also signed a ball.  Interestingly, he dropped the number 28 from his signature (the other 3 signatures on balls I have from Paul have a 28) – perhaps he expects to be traded in the coming months.  He is in the final year of a contract, although the Pirates hold an option for 2012, which most certainly will be turned down since its for $9.75 million.

Later in the MVP Zone (which is for Season Ticket Holders only) we had Jose Tabata sign a baseball,
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along with 1991 National League Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek. 
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Drabek was probably my second favorite Pirate of the 1990-1992 teams, with Andy Van Slyke being the first. 

The MVP Zone is one of the nice perks of being a season ticket holder.  Season Ticket Holders can get autographs there without waiting an average of 90 minutes on the other side of the Convention Center.  The same players come over to the MVP Zone throughout the day either before or after they are done signing for the general public.

Good (Season Ticket Holder autograph lines):
100_7085.JPGBad (everyone else):
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The other autograph that I got today was Andrew McCutchen.  We were allowed two autographs per person, so I had him sign a baseball and a Canvas Photo Wrap that I had won earlier in the day.
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We didn’t play many games because the lines were ridiculously long.  I didn’t really see the point of standing in line for 30 minutes to spin a wheel and win some give away stuff that I already have at home.

We caught some of the entertainment at the Piratefest stage:

There was Deal or No Deal:

More Minute to Win It, this time with Paul Maholm:

and Family Feud with the “Maholm Family” pitted against the “Morton Family.” 
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It was Paul Maholm vs Charlie Morton, and each player had 3 other fans assigned to his ‘family.’  The questions were related to the Pirates or Pittsburgh, and season ticket holders were those surveyed to provide the results for the game. 

Here’s a video of a round of it:

That was basically it for the day.  Got a few autographs, walked around, played a couple games at the beginning of the day before the crowd swelled, and watched some games at the Piratefest stage.

The Pirates set an all time record for the Piratefest weekend, drawing 16,839 fans, which was an increase of 1,400 over last year.  The thing is, this is my fifth year as a season ticket holder, and every other year, I only received two free tickets to Piratefest.  This year, I was given six.  I saw some fans giving away their passes at the door.  Therefore, I believe that the numbers are ‘juiced’ by the flood of free tickets that were distributed to the fan base.  Yes, there’s some reason to be excited, but a 105 loss team doesn’t just draw an all time record to its Fanfest.  Does anyone expect the Pirates to even approach their 2001 attendance home figure of 33,000 per game?  No.

The real test of how excited this town really is about Pirates baseball will be the home attendance.  We’ll see how many folks show up.  By the way, the Pirates raised ticket prices for the first time in nine years this week.  Season Ticket and advance purchased tickets will stay the same, but tickets purchased on the day of the game will be about an average of $3 more.

I’m hoping that attendance stays low, at least for batting practice, so it makes collecting baseballs easier, but we’ll see.

Spring Training is just around the corner.  Get ready.

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