Last Friday, the Pirates returned to PNC Park to play their home opener. I, like many others, was a bit confused. Not by the Pirates returning home, but whether home was truly home, or had Pittsburgh unknowingly and unwillingly been transported to an uncharted destination somewhere in the “Twilight Zone.” With tongue-in-cheek, I posed a question to a couple riding on the train with me en route to the stadium as to whether I was on the right train or even in the right city for an early April opening day game. Janine and Andy Rogacki assured me that I was headed for the right destination. “We are bundled up and ready to go,” they both said enthusiastically. “There is no way that we were going to miss the opener.”
Herein lies a little food for thought. Last Friday, April 7, the temperature in Fairbanks, Alaska was 31 degrees, with a low temperature of 25. The temperature in Pittsburgh was a high of 39 with a low of 31. Just based on that small bit of trivia, I thought that I had entered the wrong stadium.
But wait, there’s more. During the pregame, writer Chris Adamski made mention that the game-time temp at PNC Park was as cold or colder than any regular season home game played by the Steelers during their 2016 campaign. I checked that out on nflweather.com and sure enough last year, the average temperature for Steelers games played at Heinz Field was slightly above 50 degrees.
At that point before the Pirates took the field against the Atlanta Braves, I was expecting a “Hea…..th” Miller cheer to break out at any moment from the Bucs’ faithful.
The Pirates, especially those players hailing from the Caribbean and all points south, did not seem to be remotely comfortable with the weather conditions even though they tried to brush it off as part of the game. After the game, I asked winning pitcher Ivan Nova, if the cold weather forced him to do anything differently? “No not really,” he said. “I throw like it is normal weather. The only thing is that you have to maintain your focus at all times, especially pitching in weather like this. (The weather) does not affect my delivery. I have (gone) through this before. This is not my first time pitching in cold weather. I just try to stay warm in the dugout.”
The cold weather may have had a slight impact on Pirates left fielder Gregory Polanco. Polanco missed an almost routine fly ball that could have had a disastrous impact on the outcome of the game. However, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wasn’t buying it. “I think that we saw in the beginning that there was wind, but you gotta play with wind,” he said. “I think that if you asked Gregory he’ll tell you that’s a ball he should catch. Some of those balls that were hit in the outfield I didn’t see anybody just plop right underneath them; there was some carry. The wind was moving some things around that was evident by the flag. However, we always try to put ourselves in the position where we overplay balls. When there’s wind you do the best you can to try to catch a ball coming back to the field rather than running away from the field. It didn’t happen in that circumstance.”
Things might have been cold outside, but former Pirates center fielder, now current right fielder Andrew McCutchen, took his good old time preparing to address the post-game media pool especially in light of his slow start facing the Boston Red Sox during the Pirates season-opening series in Boston. Many prognosticators were gushing about his 3-for-4 offensive day against the talent-starved Braves, but a few may have thought that it was justified that McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, was allegedly on the trading block during this past offseason. When he was asked if he had to make any major adjustments as far as moving to right field is concerned, McCutchen said, “Just because I’m playing right field doesn’t mean that there’s going to be any changes. I‘m still me, I’m still Andrew McCutchen. No one’s theory of me on this team has changed; they know me.”
Will their perceived lack of loyalty to one of their brightest stars hurt the Bucs as far as when future negotiations with current players take place? That, my friends, is a wait-and-see scenario.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741. Follow him on Twitter@ultrascribe.)
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