By Sarah Steighner
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Pirates opening day on March 31 filled PNC Park with sunshine and excitement. The North Shore was a sea of black and yellow as Pirate fans staked out tailgating spots and made their way inside the stadium for the 1:05 p.m. game against the Chicago Cubs.
Each slap on the back or high-five exchanged between fans gave the impression that opening day was one big Pirate family reunion. Only at this reunion, beer will cost you an easy eight dollars.
Regular game rituals of stocking up on food and checking out Pirates memorabilia seemed to be given more focus than usual. Each food stand featured long lines of fans eager to buy the classic American baseball cuisine that they had missed during the off-season. Meanwhile, each clothing store was filled with fans buying Pirate baseball caps and jerseys to make absolutely sure they were clothed in full representation of their team.
Penn State New Kensington student Sarah Kutchko said she was amongst the fans on opening day. “It was electric,” recalled Kutchko. “There were a ton of fans there and I got to share the day with my best friend,” Kutchko said in reference to Penn State New Kensington student Chelsea Leake.
Leake added that opening day “was honestly something I will remember for the rest of my life. I got to spend it with my best friend, the Bucs won, nothing could of been better!”
Both Kutchko and Leake said they have been Pirates fans for the majority of their lives and plan on attending around 20-30 games this season alone.
Both said that one of their favorite things about attending Pirates games is the atmosphere at PNC Park. “My favorite aspect about going to games is how beautiful the park is, watching my favorite players, and the food,” explained Kutchko. Leake added that “the fans are great and the energy going through PNC Park is amazing.”
Also in attendance at this year’s Pirates home opener was season ticket holder Francis Harris. Harris said that he has been a Pirates fan since 1955, a partial season ticket holder since 1984, and a full season ticket holder since 2000.
Partial season ticket holders have seats reserved for around 20 of the Pirates’ home games. Whereas, full season ticket holders have seats reserved for all 81 of the Pirates games at PNC Park.
Harris said he has always been a Pirates fan, but that it was sports broadcasters Bob Prince and Jim Woods that first introduced him to the concept of season ticket holders. Harris recalls a Saturday day game that was marketed as a cheap day for fans to watch the Pirates. In particular, he recall that many of these people were fans that usually watched the games from the knotholes in the fence of the ballpark when they could not afford actual tickets to get in.
Harris explained that he was listening to the game on the radio when Bob Prince said “there sure are a lot of knot-holers in the stadium today,” to which Jim Woods replied “No, I believe those are future season ticket holders.”
“That was the first time I had heard that being ticket holders for an entire season was possible,” said Harris. “I knew that one day as soon as I was able, I would be a season ticket holder.”
An avid and loyal Pirates fan, Harris said he has four seats, a few rows up from first base reserved for every game. Despite his Pirates passion, Harris claims that he thinks it will be more difficult for the team to win this year. “We won 94 games last season,” said Harris. “I’ll be happy if we win 90 this year.”
Meanwhile, Pirates fan Kyle Lowry said he predicts 96 wins with the Pirates once again making the playoffs. When asked about who he believes the most important players are, Lowry stated that “I believe Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen will be vital players for the Pirates this year with their explosive play and talented bats.” He also admitted that “All in all the team must come together to be successful.”
Having been a Pirates fan for as long as he can remember, Lowry said he predicts that he will attend about a dozen games or more this season. “My favorite aspect of attending a game at PNC Park is that the field and all of the small details are spectacular and really highlight the city of Pittsburgh,” stated Lowry.
Pirates fan Evan Keener said he agreed with Lowry’s statement. “PNC Park has something special about it,” claimed Keener. He said that he has attended games at both the Old and New Yankee Stadium in New York. “Old Yankee stadium was really fun because it was the Yankee team of the early 2000s that had a lot of great players and role models and I saw some of the most historic players play in a field that had a ton of history itself but overall, I love PNC Park,” said Keener. “It has a great view around the city.”
Along with being a Pirates fan, Keener said he is in love with the overall game of baseball itself having played since he was four. Keener said that playing on his high school team gave him the opportunity to play on the actual field at PNC and gave him a closer perspective of the park. “Since I have played on the field four times, I can also say that it is flawless down there and I guarantee it’s the best in the business,” stated Keener.
As for the Pirates rivals, both Keener and Lowry said they agree that the Cardinals will be a team for the Pirates to watch out for. “You’re going to see some great games between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pirates,” assured Keener. “It’s going to be a battle all season.”
Despite the Pirates fair share of losing streaks in recent seasons, it seems as though the Pirates have quite a strong fan base. “I think everyone gets discouraged from time to time, but that’s what happens with a 162 game season, said Lowry. “In the end I’ll always be a loyal fan.”
Fans interested in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ game schedule and purchasing tickets can visit www.pitsburghpirates.com for more information.