Penguins, Pirates moved by champs' visit
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The Penguins felt like sharing, and the Pirates clearly were honored to oblige.
The Stanley Cup champions called their North Shore sporting neighbors late Saturday night to ask if Sidney Crosby and a few teammates could bring the Cup to PNC Park yesterday. And that prompted the baseball team's officials to hastily -- and delightedly -- arrange a pregame ceremony that blossomed into a vocal, emotional prequel to the parade that will flood Downtown today.
One by one, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and 16 of his players were introduced to the standing, roaring crowd of 27,565, including Game 7 hero Max Talbot, Bill Guerin, Jordan Staal, Hal Gill, Kris Letang, Mark Eaton, Philippe Boucher, Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz, Craig Adams, Eric Godard, Jeff Taffe, Chris Minard and Mathieu Garon, all along the third-base line.
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Crosby came last, with the Cup, and drew the loudest ovation when he hoisted it high over his head -- just as he did Friday in Detroit -- upon emerging from the home team's dugout.
"An amazing sight," Pirates pitcher Ian Snell called it.
To signify being the first professional sports team since the 1979 Pirates to win a championship Game 7 on the road, the Penguins donned Pirates caps and jerseys, with Talbot and Staal given No. 55 models by closer Matt Capps, and Godard given outfielder Nyjer Morgan's No. 3 because those two once were schoolmates and friendly opponents in Canada's Western Hockey League.
"The whole thing gave me the willies," Morgan said. "Honestly, I got really emotional. That's our team, from our city, and I grew up with hockey as my first love. When you're a kid playing hockey, that's your dream, to see the Cup, to touch the Cup, and there it was right in front of me."
Morgan, who converted from hockey to baseball at age 20, was the most animated of the Pirates' players during the ceremony, at one point igniting one of several "Let's Go Pens" chants from the crowd. He also caught Guerin's ceremonial first pitch, then fairly bounced to the mound to embrace him.
Guerin's offering was low and outside, one of his few misfires in recent weeks.
"Don't you know, a split-fingered fastball is supposed to drop like that?" Guerin joked. "I was imagining a left-handed batter I had to brush back."
Guerin estimated that he had gotten two hours of sleep -- "A nap between 5 and 7 a.m. just now" -- since Crosby first handed him the Cup Friday, and that he has no plan to rest anytime soon.
"It's been an amazing couple of days, doing what we've done and now this," he said. "This city is just crazy about it right now, and it's just awesome. Pittsburgh is such a great sports town, and they love all their teams. It's just been incredible, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. I don't want to sleep."
Guerin was asked if he could imagine what the parade will be like.
"No. It's going to be pretty nuts, I think. But a good nuts. People love their teams here, and it's going to be awesome."
Frank Buonomo, the Penguins' media relations representative, texted Jim Trdinich, his counterpart with the Pirates, at roughly 11:30 p.m. Saturday to ask if the Penguins could pay a visit the next day before the Pirates' game against -- who else? -- the Detroit Tigers. The Pirates had anticipated inviting them during another homestand later this month, but gladly accepted and worked overnight on arrangements.
Early yesterday morning, word was that six players would come, but that soon multiplied as more of the Penguins heard about it and sought to be involved.
"The more, the merrier," Trdinich said. "We were thrilled to have them."
So were others, apparently.
The public was informed of the Penguins' appearance at 10 a.m., only 3 1/2 hours before first pitch, but it still contributed to long lines at the ticket windows and an exceptional day-of-game sale of 5,700.
A police escort brought the Penguins to PNC Park shortly before 1 p.m., and their first stop was inside the Pirates' clubhouse, where the Pirates' players were preparing for their game. They knew the Penguins were coming, but not to the clubhouse.
Crosby quietly entered first, holding the Cup over his head and smiling, and, as his teammates followed in single-file, the Pirates' players stood and burst into applause. Other Pirates officials, from equipment managers to athletic trainers, rushed into the room to join.
"It was just incredible, for Sid and those guys to do that for us to see," Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson said. "We were all in awe, especially after watching what they went through to get it."
Crosby set the Cup on a table in the center of the room, and the Pirates' players took turns touching it and being photographed with it.
"Guys were all over it," Guerin said. "It was really neat. They're all really good guys and were appreciative we brought it in. Our kids were getting bats, balls, everything from them, too. It was nice."
Bylsma went into Pirates manager John Russell's office, where they spent a few minutes together.
The Penguins and Pirates are plenty familiar with each other.
For one, each team's players spends ample time at the other's venue: Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and his family are regulars at PNC Park, and the Pirates make frequent visits to Mellon Arena, as well as to the Tampa Bay Lightning's arena when the Penguins play there during baseball's spring training.
Away from competition, too, several players know each other personally: Wilson and Crosby are longtime acquaintances. Capps and Talbot met in a Japanese steakhouse on the South Side two years ago, exchanged numbers and remain in frequent contact.
Capps had one of his jerseys autographed by all of the Penguins and kept it for himself.
Once out on the field, with Crosby and the Penguins being feted, Morgan turned to Pirates president Frank Coonelly, as Morgan recalled, and said, "Frank, that's got to be us someday. We've got to do that. I want a parade, too."
The Pirates went on to beat their Detroit opponent, 6-3, to take two of three in the weekend series.
First Published June 15, 2009 12:00 am