Pirates Notebook: Taking San Francisco’s Championship Atmosphere Home

PNC Park Crowd
Sellouts for October baseball, like this huge crowd in Gerrit Cole’s debut, are in PNC Park’s future. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

SAN FRANCISCO — As the Pirates went in front of the sold-out home of the defending World Champions to grab a five-run victory, the thermometer ended on a temperature closer to 50 degrees than 70.

No, it’s not October. It’s just August at AT&T Park.

AT&T Park
San Francisco’s AT&T Park has seen full crowds and two World Championships the last three years.

This park in San Francisco has hosted 230 consecutive sellouts and Pittsburgh is still plugging away at surpassing PNC Park’s record of 19 total sellouts from the 2001 opening season (there have been 15 sellouts so far). Still, the well-known boisterous atmosphere by the Bay packed with attentive fans has already become the norm by the Allegheny River.

“I’ve seen it for almost two years now. PNC Park is there,” Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes said, and he has played 34 career games at AT&T Park. “There’s no reason it should slow down any time soon, especially with the talent that the guys on this club, as many young guys that are in that clubhouse. It’s going to be exciting for a long time.”

Barmes even said the five-game home series against the St. Louis Cardinals “felt like the playoffs.”

Pirates President Frank Coonelly expects the team will get at least 20 total sellouts this season to break the record. Coonelly says more tickets have been sold so far in 2013 than all of last year (2,091,918) and projects a total attendance of 2.25 million. The franchise record of 2,464,870 fans set in PNC’s inaugural year “will be clearly in our sights for next year” as the Pirates grow their season ticket base.

Putting the raw numbers aside for a moment, the players are feeling a championship-level feeling from Pirates fans coming to the ballpark. Closer Jason Grilli has pitched 11 Major League seasons, including a World Series with the Detroit Tigers, and has been around a pennant race or two.

Fans outside PNC Park fill up to the streets trying to enter.
Fans outside PNC Park filled up to the streets trying to enter for the St. Louis series in July.

Grilli does not think the vibe of the ballpark with the NL’s second-best attendance the last three years is all too different from PNC.

“It doesn’t have to be at AT&T Park to see that. We’ve seen it all summer long,” Grilli said. “We’ve proven that with the team we are, that’s why the stadium is filled out as it is.”

Even on road trips, the players are feeling the love from Pittsburghers. In San Diego, Pirates fans out-cheered Padres fans multiple times, including a standing ovation for starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. In San Francisco, Bucs’ supporters formed a large percentage of the remaining crowd by Thursday’s end after Giants fans left the blowout to beat traffic. Grilli says it can even take away from another team’s home field advantage.

“It seems like there are Pittsburgh people everywhere,” Grilli said. “We’ve seen the black and gold being represented all throughout the stadiums we’ve been at all year.”

National Football League teams have dealt with “Steeler Nation” for years as Steelers fans packed road stadiums across the league. Now native Pittsburghers are beginning to bring the same black-and-gold presence to the ballpark, and some Pirates fans were even waving Terrible Towels at Petco Park.

“It’s been great to see how many Pirates fans we’ve had on the road, no matter where we go,” Barmes said. “It seems like there are a lot of black jerseys floating around on the road series. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Bonus Notes!

  • Starling Marte
    Marte slides in to third base on the play where his Prado stepped on his hand Sunday. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

    Right fielder Andrew Lambo is on his way to join the team in San Francisco, according to a source of 93.7 The Fan’s Dan Zangrilli. Nothing is confirmed for now, and Lambo could be coming to be on the taxi squad for a possible injury, but a current Pirates player would have to go on the 15-day disabled list for Lambo to play in the Giants series.

  • Left fielder Starling Marte (hand injury) is out of the Pirates lineup for the fifth-straight game. Marte is “able to help in a couple different ways off the bench” Friday night, manager Clint Hurdle said, but is otherwise in a “holding pattern.” The team wants Marte to be able to hit the ball strong with the injured hand before he is ready to start.
  • Closer Jason Grilli (right forearm strain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Sunday and a simulated game Wednesday, as the Pirates look to put an “added increase” on his arm to make sure he is ready for September.
  • Starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez (left forearm tightness) threw his entire bullpen session Thursday prior to the news that he would see orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Hurdle said Rodriguez felt forearm pain in the 2nd inning of the simulated game and shared how he felt with trainers after his outing.
  • Jordy Mercer will make his first Major League start as third baseman Friday night on a “maintenance” day for Pedro Alvarez against left-handed Giants starter Madison Bumgarner. “We try to take care of things on an individual basis,” Hurdle said. Mercer played 86 minor-league games at third base.
  • Outfielder Felix Pie is “fine” and looked good in early work after hitting AT&T Park’s center-field wall almost dead-on Thursday night.
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In early 90’s, Giants were literally a heart beat away from moving to Tampa/St. Pete. Candlestick was a nightmare stadium for baseball. Amazing what a real park and a commitment to winning can do for a franchise. No reason Pittsburgh can’t be a great baseball city.

Lee Young

” No reason Pittsburgh can’t be a great baseball city.”

It always HAS been….the proof is the number of people who took the time to show up during this miserable 20 year stretch. If they weren’t great fans, they would’ve been outdrawn by the Wild Things.


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