Pirates tip caps to fallen officers
Pirates manager John Russell wears his Pittsburgh Police cap at the ballpark yesterday.
Led by manager John Russell, Pirates players observe a moment of silence in memory of three fallen police officers during Opening Day ceremonies yesterday at PNC Park.
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The promotional giveaway at yesterday's home opener was the traditional black baseball cap with a bold gold letter familiar to all fans of the Pirates, but a unique type of headgear made the biggest impression.
For this game, the Pirates and their coaches wore dark blue caps with gold stitching that spelled out Pittsburgh Police. Even their opponents, the Houston Astros, donned the same hats during pre-game ceremonies to show that they, too, were on the same team when it comes to honoring slain police officers.
"We'd have worn them all game if they would have asked us," said Houston general manager Ed Wade.
Conflicting emotions are as much a part of baseball as hot dogs and cold drinks, but those feelings normally arise from the ebb and flow of the game. Yesterday, however, heartstrings were tugged from the excitement and festive atmosphere of the dawn of a new baseball season to solemn ceremonies revolving around a tribute to three fallen officers.
Shortstop Jack Wilson spoke for his teammates in embracing police blue.
"It was definitely something we should do to honor the protectors of our city," he said. "It's a tough time. We wanted to do anything we could to honor the officers who died in the line of duty and to help their families."
The autographed hats and game-worn jerseys adorned on the right sleeves with PBP -- for Pittsburgh Bureau of Police -- are being auctioned at www.pirates.com to benefit the Fallen Heroes Fund.
At its heart, the world of sports is a shield from real-world heartbreak such as three officers killed while answering a call involving a domestic dispute between a mother and son.
But sometimes, the games mean much more.
Last week, for example, the Penguins raised more than $100,000 at their home finale to help the families of the fallen officers. The Pirates took advantage of their first opportunity back in the city to do their share.
On a cloudy, 53-degree afternoon, the U.S., commonwealth and city flags waved in the breeze at half staff.
The sellout crowd of 38,411 cheered every highlight of the 7-0 win over the Astros. It was the third win in nine home openers at PNC Park, the victory total matching the number of field managers and general managers the Pirates have had in that time.
On the other hand, pre-game ceremonies included a moment of silence as the giant scoreboard designed to keep track of runs, hits and errors showed pictures of officers Stephen J. Mayhle, Paul J. Sciullo II and Eric G. Kelly.
Fans stood silently as the poignant notes of "Amazing Grace" were sounded out by the skirl of bagpipes. Later, the crowd observed the seventh inning stretch by singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."
Each play that contributed to the Pirates' victory was cheered lustily. There was also heartfelt applause for two guests in attendance, Brian Jones and Timothy McManaway, who wore black ribbon on their police shields. Those two officers were hurt in the April 4 firefight in Stanton Heights.
"This was definitely a special day for the city," said Zach Duke, who became the first Pirates pitcher to pitch a complete game shutout in the home opener in 31 years. "The way we were able to honor the men who lost their lives is a great thing."
Added batterymate Ryan Doumit, whose solo home run in the eighth provided the final margin of 7-0: "We're privileged to support the men in blue, the true heroes out there."
Mixed feelings seemed to be the order of the day. Center fielder Nate McLouth received his Gold Glove Award and Steve Blass, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Manny Sanguillen, had a banner unfurled in his honor for his 50 years as a player and broadcaster. But remembrances were also observed for the late Vince Laschied, whose organ music was heard once more through recordings, and the late Guy Buzzelli, who received the Pride of the Pirates award for raising money for muscular dystrophy research. The pre-game ceremonies concluded with a fly-over of four AH-64 Apache helicopters by the 1-104th Attack Reconaissance Battalion, a U.S. Army Reserve outfit based in Johnstown.
Not only is the North Shore home to a ballpark and stadium, it is the site of the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Just downriver from the playing field, shrines to the three officers have sprung up. There are flowers, votive candles and three tiny American flags. A golfing buddy of Officer Sciullo accented his tribute by placing a couple of Titleist golf balls at the display.
The air was thick with sentiment well before the game. But it also carried the aroma of grills cooking up ribs, hamburgers and leftover Easter hams.
Rich Donnelly, the Pirates coach and adviser who has a knack for capturing a moment with his words, put the day in perspective.
"It's a little awkward here today with all the emotions," he said. "In our Tri-State area, we're all family. We were raised with the same values. We all feel and share the sorrow of this tragic situation. This gathering today in the ballpark will be the largest until the Steelers start playing, so really, there is no better place than this ballpark to recognize our police and also let their families know that the whole community is behind them.
"We want the police to know we appreciate what they do. We take them for granted, and then something like this happens to remind us how important they are," he added. "It's too bad we can't have police appreciation before every game."
First Published April 14, 2009 12:00 am