Players, fans help create the oddest symbols of victory for Pirates

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From second base, a Pirates player turns to his dugout and flashes his hands in a "Z" for Zoltan. A teenager high on the PNC Park rotunda in the left-field corner flies a Jolly Roger flag over the railing. And somewhere at home in Western Pennsylvania, a fan watching on television waves a Green Weenie.

All of them meaning "Let's Go Bucs!"

They are links in a chain of signature symbols, gestures and catchphrases that are peculiar -- in every sense of the word -- to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the team's history. They create a sense of oneness.

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But who creates them?

"It's hard to say," said Anne Madarasz, director of Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum that is part of the Heinz History Center in the Strip District. "They're all an expression of the moment. That's part of what makes it so great. But it also makes it kind of hard to capture. It's something that lives in the moment."

And yet some of them can live forever.

Legendary Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince not only dished out nicknames for players of the 1960s, but created the Green Weenie, a plastic rattle that fans shook for good luck.

"Bob Prince was the first king of funny sayings," Ms. Madarasz said. "We've got one of his jackets with all of them on it. We've got a whole section where you can sit and listen to an old radio going back to Rosie Roswell, who was well known for saying to tell Aunt Minnie to open the window when a home run was hit. And then you'd hear the sound of glass breaking."

Broadcaster Greg Brown, who has been with the team for almost 20 years, urges fans to "Clear the deck! Cannonball coming!" when a home run is hit. And the call to "Raise the Jolly Roger" after a Pirates win is all his.

But it isn't just the TV and radio voices who coin the moneymaking signs and phrases. Fans come to games bearing homemade signs reading "Grilled Cheese," "Get Hyped" and "Marte Party" to name a few banners that vie for a brief shot on television.

The players contribute to atmosphere as well. During the Pirates' championship season of 1979, the song "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge burst forth from the locker-room radio to a citywide anthem.

Last season, the players introduced the "Z" for Zoltan, a sign given back to teammates in the dugout after a double or triple. This year, reliever Mark Melancon dubbed the bullpen "The Shark Tank." Both have been picked up by T-shirt vendors throughout the region.

"Athletes in general like to be part of a team," Aimee Kimball, director of mental training at UPMC Sports Medicine on the South Side, said when the Zoltan sign first appeared. "So something that they all have in common, like an inside joke, bonds them a little more. And the fans then take it to another level."

In 2001, some Major League Baseball players returning from Japan started wearing bracelets and necklaces containing magnets, titanium and other materials -- supposedly to improve their balance, flexibility and endurance. It wasn't long before the fans were sporting them in their team colors as well. (You can get your black and gold Pirates necklace online for about $11.99.)

The community kicked off its preparations for tonight's wild card playoff game with a pep rally in Market Square at noon Monday. Pirates president Frank Coonelly saluted the 2,000-plus fans in attendance -- as well as the 2.25 million who attended games this summer -- and noted that the latest Pirates T-shirts say, "We Play For October."

"But more importantly," he said, "we play for you, the fans of Pittsburgh. ... This is a rally. Well, we understand the difference between a rally and a parade. Let's get back here in three and a half weeks for a parade down Grant Street."

A little while later, Nate Geller, 41, of Indiana Township emerged from the Pirates Clubhouse Store at PNC Park with a handful of T-shirts and caps commemorating the Pirates' long-awaited arrival in postseason play.

"I think back to the last time I bought a Pirates shirt of any kind," he said. "It's probably been about 10 years ago. I have some old T-shirts from back in '92 and one, a kid's size, from back in '78 or '79. They say 'Division Champs.' I don't wear them, they're at the bottom of the drawer. But I have them. They're just part of growing up, they're part of who you are."

Mr. Geller, who coaches baseball and teaches psychology and sociology at Brashear High School, said it is important to collect these moments -- and this memorabilia.

"I guess it just goes back, like a tribal thing," he said. "Where you want to be around other people. Music, food, or something to celebrate about the community. People want to identify who they are and where they're from. It's something that they're proud about."

He said he and his 5-year-old son will be attending tonight's playoff game against the Reds. And they will be shaking Green Weenies.

Ms. Madarasz said the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum already has notified the team of interest in items to add to the current collection.

"That way, it won't be 20 years from now and we're desperately seeking these things that we wish we had gotten," she said, sounding like a fan in the souvenir shop. "It all brings back memories."

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Dan Majors: or 412-263-1456. First Published October 1, 2013 4:00 AM


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