Overheard: Intentional walk at PNC Park -- or was it a strikeout?

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They were the best of fans, they were the worst of fans. It depended on your perspective.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Fans hang a sign on the left field rotunda at PNC Park on Saturday. Minutes later PNC Park security had it removed.
Click photo for larger image.

They went to Saturday evening's Pirates game wearing green shirts with chips on their shoulders. Some carried signs, but all of them carried grudges, angry with the baseball team's ownership and management after 14 losing seasons.

They wanted to make a statement, so they resolved to get up from their seats in beautiful PNC Park and walk out after the third out in the bottom of the third inning.

Mike Peditto, 24, of Oakland, heard about the protest and was eager to take part.

"I didn't get to experience the good days," he said. "I'm just paying for the bad days."

Season-ticket holder Kathy Bielecki, 20, of Burgettstown, came with her sister and two friends. They brought a sign showing crossed-out dollar signs.

"This is ridiculous," she said. "After all this losing, I'd like to see us get over .500 at least."

Not all of the protesters were wearing green shirts. A group of 30 fans seated on the Southwest Airlines Flight Deck up over left field were wearing white T-shirts with the label "Axis of Evil" under the pictures of owners Bob Nutting and Kevin McClatchy and General Manager David Littlefield.

"I've been a Pirate fan ever since I was born. But now, I'm not really feeling it," said Gil Lancia, 23, of Baldwin Borough. "The Pittsburgh Steelers give us something to think about every year. They get us excited at least. The Pirates ain't doing nothing. They're just not giving us any hope whatsoever."

Brock Masters, 20, of Kittanning, wore a yellow shirt that had two words on it; however, the first letter of the first word -- a "P" -- is shown falling off to the side, leaving the words "irate fan."

Mr. Masters and his friends brought along three homemade banners they hung from the railing of the left-field rotunda. They read "Worst Managed Team," "Worst MLB Owners" and "We will rob the fans."

Security guards made them remove the first two, but allowed them to leave the last one, which wasn't aimed toward home plate. It remained there for the whole game, which is more than could be said for Mr. Masters and his buddies.

In the third inning, they rehung the first two banners. This time, when security guards arrived, they tore down the signs and said the group had to leave the ballpark.

"At first, they said we could hang the signs as long as they weren't vulgar or blocking the view of advertising," said Robby Bell, 21, of Penn Hills. "But then they came and said, 'The owners saw the signs and want them taken down.' But that made us happy. The owners saw it. Mission accomplished."

Standing nearby, Pirates fan Brian Nelson, 25, of West Mifflin, offered his take on the protesters.

"It's a good idea. but it's handled poorly," he said. "Instead of walking out on the players who are out there busting their butts for us, they need to not come to the game. By coming to the game and walking out, the money is still in the owners' pockets. The whole key is sticking it to the owners."

He said he wouldn't be participating in the protest.

"No, I'm not going to take part in the walkout," he said. "I'll take their seats when they leave, though."

Perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to the protest was that the Pirates scored six runs in the second inning. It's hard to be unhappy when you're happy.

When the third inning ended, hundreds of the green-clad fans got up and headed for the exits. While most fans ignored them, others booed them and yelled profanities.

Tim Tomayko, 21, of Freeport, and his two friends had brown paper bags over their heads expressing messages like "We will lose," a takeoff on the team's ad slogan, and "Bad News Bucs."

"A lot of people cheered for us, and a lot of people got into arguments with us," he said. "But I think the people who are walking out are the true fans. They're the ones who are upset with what's going on."

Heath Moidel, 23, of Carnegie, disagreed as he heckled the exiting protesters with calls of "We don't need you here."

"It disgusts me," he said. "Pittsburgh fans are supposed to be great fans. My father has been a Pittsburgh fan his whole life and I am, too. It's 6-1 and we're winning. Our team is playing their hearts out. But these fans are greedy."

One fan headed out the exit was particularly angry, despite the score. Shouting to no one in particular, he slammed his Bob Walk bobblehead to the ground, then picked it up and threw it in a trash can.

Not all of the protesters left the park. Some thought it was enough to just stand up at the appointed time and walk out into the concourse area for a while.

Jared, 24, of Greensburg, refused to give his last name. But he and his friends were proud to be among those "making a statement."

"We were hoping for a little bit more than about a thousand people," he said. "But we made our point. Those people who booed us and flipped us off, they aren't the true fans. They're here for the circus atmosphere. And that's why they're going to have another 14 years of losing seasons."

Then they stopped by the concession stand and returned to their seats.

Late in the game, the fans who remained got to see a victory for the team. Whether or not it was a victory for the protesters remains to be seen.

"Frankly," said one fan, "if you didn't know to look for it, you wouldn't have known it was going on."

One of the Pirates employees, a ticket-taker, held a gate open for the protesters who were walking out.

"We appreciate your coming," he politely said. "Hope you come back."

It should be noted that not all of the angry fans took part in the walkout. On a gorgeous summer Saturday evening with a popular promotion, the attendance was 26,959. PNC Park has a capacity of 38,496.

Those 11,537 empty seats said something, too.

Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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