PirateFest a forum for fans' frustration
The Pirates unveiled their lineup of jerseys for the 2009 season. In includes a new black alternate jersey, far right, as well as the addition of sleeves to the team's home white and road gray jerseys. Modeling were, from left, pitcher Matt Capps, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth.
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New look, same players.
That appeared to be the conflicted theme of the opening day of the 19th PirateFest yesterday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center: The Pirates unveiled new uniforms, but those will be worn by essentially the same players who finished 67-95 last season.
And, to listen to the annual management Q&A session last night, where about 400 fans peppered team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell with pointed questions and comments uncommon to this usually friendly forum, it was easy to grasp that the general view was dissatisfaction.
"Why is it that, anytime you get somebody decent like Jason Bay, you have to get rid of him?" came the first question.
- What: 19th annual PirateFest.
- Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
- When: Noon-8 p.m. today; 11 a.m.-4-p.m. tomorrow.
- Tickets: $10 for adults, free for children 14 and under.
- Autographs today: Ryan Doumit, Matt Capps, Ross Ohlendorf and Omar Moreno, noon-1:30 p.m.; Nate McLouth, Jeff Karstens and Doug Drabek, 1:30-3 p.m.; Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Dave Parker, 3-4:30 p.m.; Freddy Sanchez, Andy LaRoche and Sean Burnett, 4:30-6 p.m.; Paul Maholm, John Grabow and Jay Bell, 6-7:30 p.m.
- Autographs tomorrow: Doumit, LaRoche and Parker, 10-11:30 a.m.; Sanchez, Karstens and Walker, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Matt Capps, Tom Gorzelanny and Nyjer Morgan, 1-2:30 p.m.; Grabow, McCutchen and Bell, 2:30-4 p.m.
- Q&A sessions: Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington and John Russell, 4-5 p.m. today; players and coaches, 3-4 p.m. today.
- Youth clinics: Russell, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, hitting coach Don Long and third base coach Tony Beasley, 6-7 p.m. today, noon-1 p.m. tomorrow.
The next was more of a speech: "I just don't understand how anyone can say this team will be better than it was last year. The bench is going to be worse. The outfield will be worse. The pitching ... if there's any breakdown at all on this team, it will lose 110 games."
A youngster followed with a predictable one: "Are you going to trade Jack Wilson?"
And, when another questioner asked why the Pirates had not yet re-signed Doug Mientkiewicz, the assembly broke into loud applause before anyone on stage could answer.
To be sure, all three team officials had seemed braced for such a reaction this weekend, including the second session scheduled for 4 p.m. today. And all three handled each question or comment -- including a few that expressed support for the team's direction - -calmly and in good spirits.
But that probably should not be taken to mean they are numb to the criticism, given the strong terms in which they spoke of prioritizing building from the bottom up, even if it asks patience of a fan base that ran out of the stuff long ago.
"We could do these things, go out and sign free agents, and they'd love us in the newspapers, and some of you would welcome it, too," Coonelly said. "I understand that. I respect that. And we are looking at free agents where there is real value to us in the short and long term, where it won't keep us from the things we've done in drafting, Latin America and in development. But we can't build through free agency."
Of 2009, a year that appears to some to be an afterthought in such a plan, Coonelly said, "Our plan is to win. We want to win right now."
"The fans, obviously, are tired of losing, and I can understand that," Huntington said. "I know the players in that clubhouse are tired of losing. That field staff. The front office. Everybody. That's why we're here. We're here to win. We're here to build a winner. But we're going to do it the right way, and we've had to establish a foundation to build upon."
Huntington referenced the hiring of pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and infield instructor Perry Hill, as well as adding to his research staff, the North American scouting staff and other developmental specialists. He mentioned, too, the record $9.83 million the Pirates spent on the 2008 draft and the record $2.5 million on Latin American talent.
"What have we done this offseason?" Huntington continued. "A lot of people are going to point and say, 'Well, you've only made one signing.' "
That would be Ramon Vazquez, a free-agent utility infielder.
"The reality is, everything we do is process oriented, short and long term, and it's aimed at having a successful team in Pittsburgh. It might not happen in the time that everybody wants, which is tomorrow. But we are building. As we stood here a year ago, we hoped we would get better. We believed it. I can stand on this stage today and confidently tell you we are better. And it will happen here in Pittsburgh."
Russell was no less pronounced when asked about the coming season.
"I've heard from fans who ask me if we're punting on 2009," he said. "Punting? I can tell you, with all the hours we've put in as coaches ... and these players, too ... nobody's punting. We're going out there to win every game."
The Pirates' uniform switch covered nearly every model:
• For the primary home and road jerseys, sleeves were added back for the first time since 2000, their last year at Three Rivers Stadium.
• The new alternate jersey is solid black with the iconic gold "P" on the left breast, the player's number below the right breast. It replaces the unpopular red jersey, and it will mark the first appearance of the "P" on a regular-season jersey since 1937.
• The pinstripe uniforms worn for Sunday home games will remain unchanged, still sleeveless.
• Also unchanged are the spring training/batting practice uniforms. The lone exception is that the red has been removed from the small stripe above the ear on the caps.
All red is gone from all uniforms. It was reintroduced in 1997.
"Like our fans, we take pride in wearing the black and gold," Coonelly said.
Another factor in the Pirates adding sleeves: Many of the players privately complained about having to wear the extra black shirt underneath the sleeveless jerseys.
NOTES -- The Pirates have made contact with free-agent starter Braden Looper, though their interest is mostly from afar at this stage. Looper, 34, went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA last season for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles are showing more interest. ... The Pirates re-signed starter Jason Davis and invited him and two players whose rights they already owned, second baseman Shelby Ford and catcher Erik Kratz, to spring training. The number of non-roster invitees is at 17. Davis, 28, went 2-4 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 appearances late last season.
First Published January 24, 2009 12:00 am