Wearing the cream and black of the Negro League's Homestead Grays last night carried a significance far weightier than the throwback uniforms themselves.
"Those guys paved the way for us," said left fielder Nyjer Morgan, part of the roughly 9 percent of major league ballplayers today who are African-American. "Without those guys we wouldn't even be here. It's a huge thing to put on the uniform and represent Josh Gibson.
"Too bad I can't hit any bombs for him," Morgan added with a grin.
Wouldn't you know, in the third inning, with Andrew McCutchen aboard after being plunked by Kansas City start Gil Meche, Morgan clunked a 1-0 pitch over the Clemente Wall for his second homer this season -- and third of his 154-game, big-league career.
Just 800 or so more until he could catch the legendary Gibson, who grew up along this same North Side.
McCutchen added of the uniform's gravity: "All the people who played before us who gave us a chance to play now. ... It's an honor to be wearing that uniform."
The Pirates honored the Grays to the point where even fellows who usually don baggy, long pants last night rolled up the legs -- a few inches above the spikes for some (Brandon Moss and Adam LaRoche), to almost the knees for others (Andy LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Jason Jaramillo). The visiting Royals dressed in the Kansas City Monarchs' red.
The uniforms, and Grays' cap giveaway night, were all part of the African American Heritage Festival celebration around PNC Park. The events opened yesterday with a Heritage Day luncheon at the ballpark. The keynote speaker was former Boston Globe reporter Larry Tye, who this month published a biography of Satchel Paige, "The Life and Times of an American Legend."
Tye, invited by Pirates president Frank Coonelly, came to the North Shore as part of a book tour that encompasses almost 20 major and minor league parks -- including Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati earlier for the Civil Rights Game a week ago. Today, he will be signing copies of his book among the festivities along Federal Street.
"It's great seeing Pittsburgh since this was the locus, the only city to have two Negro League teams like this," Tye said. "And the idea to be able to see them on the field in the uniform of his longest-running team, the Monarchs, is incredible."
Paige, it should be noted, for a brief time also wore the uniform of Pittsburgh's other Negro League star-riddled compilation: the high-priced Crawfords.
Charlie Morton still aims to make his PNC Park starting debut tomorrow against Kansas City and Zach Greinke (9-3, 1.90 ERA).
Morton and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, after a side session of 20-something pitches, met with manager John Russell yesterday afternoon and later was affirmed as the Pirates starter for tomorrow.
"I felt fine. I feel good," Morton, acquired in the Nate McLouth trade from Atlanta, said of the left hamstring he first strained June 10 in Atlanta. "I'm anxious."
Russell said Morton is progressing, the club just wants to be cautious.
He added: "He still feels it a little bit. [But] he's very adamant about pitching. He felt it [at Colorado last week]. He pitched five innings against the hottest team in the world and only gave up two runs. So it's going to be kind of scary to see him when he's 100 percent."
• Jaramillo's home run, in the fourth, was his second in three games.
• Entering last night, Pirates attendance had seen a 6 percent hike, to 18,063 from a 16,921 average through the first 32 home games last season.
• Catcher Ryan Doumit, recovering from late-April wrist surgery, is scheduled to leave Tuesday for Pirate City for a few days of workouts. Then, on July 4, he is heading for Class AAA Indianapolis for a rehab assignment. "Wait and see how it goes," he said.