It remains to be seen whether the 2013 Pirates can clinch a pennant. But, in terms of attendance, it's already a banner year.
With 20 games remaining at PNC Park -- beginning with a three-game weekend series against the Arizona Diamondbacks starting tonight -- the team is assured of breaking the 2 million mark for only the fifth time.
"We have officially surpassed last year's ticket sales of 2.091 million, which means we will have the second-highest attendance in the 127-year history of the franchise," team spokesman Brian Warecki said. "While it is not possible at this point to surpass the 2001 record attendance of 2.436 million, with the continued strong support from our fans, we have an opportunity to approach 2.25 [million] to 2.3 million this season with our sights on topping the record in 2014."
We'll get 'em next year.
Last year, the Pirates looked to have a chance at approaching the attendance record the franchise set in 2001, the first year in its new park, when the turnstiles of PNC Park were bright, shiny and new and everyone wanted to see the ballpark that was the buzz of the sporting world. A late-season swoon, however, saw 2012 attendance top out at 2,091,918.
The ballpark may still be great, but fans now are focused on seeing competitive baseball. Gimmicks and giveaways -- and fireworks! -- only go so far.
The team has responded. The Pirates' 41-20 record at home is the second-best in all of baseball, just a few games behind Atlanta.
The play on the field has translated into fans in the stands. Last month, the Pirates set an attendance record for a four-date series when 129,623 fans paid to see them play the Cardinals (July 29-Aug. 1). The previous PNC Park record for a four-date series was 129,473, set during the 2008 season against the New York Mets (Aug. 15-18).
"We also drew 115,699 for the three-date series with the Mets from July 12-14, which ranks second in PNC Park history for a three-date series," Mr. Warecki said. "Also, the 113,891 for the three games versus Colorado (Aug. 2-4) ranks third all-time."
The record for a three-date series is 118,324, set against the Boston Red Sox in 2011 (June 24-26).
If there is a season record within reach, it might be in the number of sellouts -- 19 in 2001. The Pirates, which had 17 sellouts in 2011 and 2012, have 12 so far this year.
And, as of Thursday afternoon, the only tickets remaining for this weekend's games were for obstructed-view seats or standing room.
"We are expecting strong crowds this weekend, which should result in three straight sellouts," Mr. Warecki said.
Chris McKeown, 35, of Toronto didn't mind standing. He walked away from the PNC Park ticket windows Thursday with a pair of SRO tickets he bought for himself, his wife and their 10-month-old child.
"She wanted to do some Grove City shopping, so I said, 'OK, as long as I get to catch a game,' " said Mr. McKeown, who has seen a number of Steelers games at Heinz Field but has never been inside PNC Park.
"If they weren't in a pennant race, I probably wouldn't care," Mr. McKeown said. "But this is exciting."
Terry Driscoll, 58, of Baldwin has been part of a season-ticket plan in the past. The prospect of SRO tickets didn't faze him.
"I've been going to [about 30] games a season for years," he said. "But I'm not one of those guys that are ticked off at the fans coming out because they're winning," he said. "Come on out, fill up the park. Get on the bandwagon. That's all right. I'll be in the bleacher section torturing the other team's left fielder."
"The fans have passionately embraced this team and, as a result, the demand for tickets is extremely high," Mr. Warecki said. "We recommend fans buy their tickets in advance now rather than risk being shut out on the day of the game."
Mr. Warecki said fans can still purchase partial season-ticket packages that not only would assure them of seats for remaining games but give them priority in purchasing -- dare we say it? -- postseason tickets.
Details on buying playoff tickets, he said, will be announced in the next two weeks.
Dan Majors: email@example.com or 412-263-1456.