The PNC Park ground crew took to the field after a National League Division Series loss Monday to the St. Louis Cardinals, covering the mound, raking the infield, leveling the clay in the batters' boxes.
This despite the chance that the next official baseball game played at PNC Park might not take place until March 31, 2014, against the Chicago Cubs.
The next game in the Pirates and Cardinals best-of-five series -- Wednesday in St. Louis -- will determine which team advances to the National League Championship Series and which team sets about cleaning out the lockers.
The players and their fans might not be ready for the season to end. But, if end it must, the PNC Park ground crew is ready. And the offseason "to-do" list isn't very daunting.
"Just keeping up with the detail work," said Manny Lopez, 43, director of field operations at PNC Park, who has been with the Pirates for 20 years. "Replacing sod that we need to replace. Shutting down the irrigation and getting ready for winter."
This is the furthest into the calendar that the Pirates have played at PNC Park, and Lopez said the field has held up well.
"I think right now, this field is in the best shape it's ever been in at the end of the regular season," Lopez said. "We had some minor repairs to do, but when you consider all the activities we have -- and it's not just baseball -- we're real happy. We're looking good."
PNC Park, widely considered to be the best ballpark in America, is Lopez's baby. He and his crew of a dozen workers make sure the grass is cut and edged, the dirt is spread smooth, and the chalk lines are straight.
The game Monday was played under a cloud-thatched sky that followed a hard rain.
"The real rain hit us this morning, but the field is great," Lopez said as he surveyed the field before the first pitch. "We have pumps underneath that drain all the water out. Everything's dry and we're in good shape.
But such statements are always said with fingers crossed and rain equipment ready.
"For me, the weather is extremely unstable," Lopez said. "Coming from Florida, I thought it was bad down there. But I've gotten used to it now."
In the winter, Lopez will assume duties for the Pirates in Florida and the Dominican Republic. PNC Park will go into hibernation, its infield uncovered so the grass won't die.
But the offseason is a long way off, as far as Pirates fans are concerned. The postseason continues and there's a chance that another series -- or two -- is still to be played at PNC Park this season.
"We're all real excited, just like everyone else in the city," Lopez said of himself and his crew. "I'm taking it all in. It's not even like coming to work anymore. We're having a blast."
Using his head for autographs
It wasn't hard to pick out Jacob Malizio in the crowd gathered Monday at PNC Park for a playoff game. He was the one with a baseball-size welt on the right side of his forehead -- and a grin from ear to ear.
Jacob, 11, of Mt. Lebanon, was in the stands with his sisters, Danielle, 14, and Michelle, 12, and their father, Ray Malizio. The boy was hugging the railing deep in the right-field corner, extending a red Cardinals ballcap toward the St. Louis players in the outfield during pregame batting practice.
His focus was far from a Cardinals player in the batting cage more than 300 feet away, a mistake that kept him from seeing a foul ball shooting in his direction.
"I was trying to get [Adam] Wainwright's autograph," Jacob said.
Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly, however, saw the ball coming. Kelly, who had started Sunday for St. Louis in Game 3, was among the half-dozen Cardinals players shagging flies in right field.
He shouted out a warning for Jacob and the other kids in the area to "Look out!"
Michelle was able to raise her left arm in defense, and the ball clipped her just hard enough to leave a red mark.
The real damage was done to Jacob, who had turned his head. The emergency personnel who scrambled to check on him didn't have any problem finding where he had been hit. The baseball's stitches were etched in red.
Kelly and some of the other Cardinals also rushed over.
"They asked if I was OK and then asked if I was a Pirates fan or a Cardinals fan," Jacob said.
It was kind of a silly question. Unlike his sisters, who were wearing the Pirates best, Jacob was wearing a white Cardinals jersey with the name and number of David Freese.
Despite being raised in a household of loyal Pirates fans, Jacob switched allegiances after Freese's winning home run in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
He said his being a Cardinals fan drives his sisters crazy, but it's worth it because "they're always a good team."
The ball to the head certainly hurt. But it didn't hurt that Jacob was wearing his Cardinals shirt. The players who checked on him passed the hat -- literally -- so that Jacob's red Cardinals cap came back to him with 16 autographs, including Wainwright's.
Would he have gotten autographs if he had been wearing a Pirates jersey?
"Well, since it hit me in the head, probably," Jacob said. "But I probably wouldn't have gotten this many."
Jacob's father said getting to the field early and trying to get autographs is a tradition.
The game, however, will be on their minds long after the mark on Jacob's head is gone. Mom is likely to make sure of that, Jacob said.
"I'll be in trouble when I get home," he said. "I should have been watching."
First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM