We’ve all heard about home field advantage. But the 2012 Pirates are taking the term to a whole other level. Not only are the Pirates on their way to breaking the dreadful 19-year losing streak and being serious contenders for the first time since 1992, they are giving the fans of Pittsburgh a reason to come to the ballpark.
Pittsburgh has been infamous for their success at home of their sports teams over the years. From 2002-2010, the Panthers posted a 149-12 record at home. The Pittsburgh Steelers went 7-1 last year at Heinz Field and the Pittsburgh Penguins have a 54-24-4 record at home since the Consol Energy Center opened up two years ago. This year, the Pirates are tired of playing little brother and boast a Major League best 32-14 record, including going 21-4 in the their last 25 games at home.
The Pirates have come a long way from where they were a couple of years ago. Guys like Jeff Karstens remembers the struggles they had then and said while they have a long way to go, they’ve enjoyed the atmosphere this city brings.
“It’s nowhere near done. I was talking to my fiancé last night. A lot of these guys weren’t here when I was in 2008 when we lost 99 games or whatever it may be, and the next year a 100,” Karstens explained. “So to come out here and see the crowds we are getting, it definitely means a lot to me and the clubhouse and the guys. We’re showing it the way we’re playing. We’re playing hard and battling for the city of Pittsburgh. That’s what we want to do.”
Pirates’ closer Joel Hanrahan can relate to Karstens and how the guys came to the park in a routine instead of looking to win.
“Definitely around the clubhouse we feel we’re going to win. Guys come to the ballpark thinking that we’re going to win that day,” Hanrahan said. “There were times a couple years back, that you kind of just felt like you were going there to play a game and have the game be over with and go home. We feel like we’re going out there everyday and something exciting is going to happen.”
Karstens said while the other guys don’t know how it feels to lose here, he doesn’t bring it up to them.
“No, you don’t want to talk about the past,” Karstens said. “I just thought about it last night. I think it’s something that every guy on this team knows whether you are starting or coming to play a position, we’re going to go out there and do a good job.”
For a young guy like Jordy Mercer, he said that while athletes are supposed to block out the crowd, they definitely feed off the energy they bring.
“Absolutely we hear them,” Mercer said. “Anytime you can play in front of 40,000 fans and they stay here for the whole game is pretty special. We really, really enjoy it.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has said time and time again, that he’s only been here for two years, but he knows that this city deserves a winner.
“Winning is good for everyone,” Hurdle said. “I feel happy for the employees that have been here for a long time. Lord knows that it’s been hard for a long time. Now they’re getting to experience, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing available today. You’ll have to check to see what’s outside the ballpark.’ That’s got to be good and refreshing.”
Garrett Jones said that the fans are coming here to watch baseball from the first pitch and they are a huge spark to them.
“It’s so much better this year. The atmosphere of the crowd is behind us. They are in every pitch, every at bat and it’s big crowds,” Jones said. “It’s a lot more fun. You’ve seen a lot more signs being held up. The whole Zoltan thing with the hand signals and the shirts are out more. This year’s been great. It’s been very fun, electric and we just want to keep it going and keep winning.”
The fans that Pedro Alvarez calls “the best fans in baseball,” aren’t just offering their support at the stadium, but when they see the Pirates out as well.
“As my family gets around, there’s a different electricity in the air,” Hurdle said. “There was a kid that drew hands on a napkin at a restaurant that wanted to make sure I had a copy of the art. That doesn’t happen everyday.”
“The fans here have been great. I’ve gone out to eat at local places and the fans actually recognize me and just come up to shake my hand to tell me thank you for my part in bringing back baseball to Pittsburgh,” newcomer Drew Sutton added.
Mercer said while the fans are in every game, they are at their loudest when Hanrahan comes in to close out the games. After all, the staff does boast a 2.33 ERA, second in all of baseball, at home.
“In the ninth, when Joel comes in is when they’re the loudest for sure,” Mercer said. “When they get on their feet for two outs and we need just one more out to win the game they’re yelling. It’s exciting and it gets the chills going. It’s what you play the game for.”
So the rest of 35 home games that the Pirates have, be sure to make some noise because it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“The fans have been outstanding and amazing,” Hanrahan said. “We’re selling out pretty much everyday. The love that they have for us and the support has been great.”
“The roar of the crowd just makes you feel an energy and it’s just a good, positive energy,” Jones added. “It makes you feel it with all of the fans there and it makes you feel good when you’re getting that kind of support.”
Photo Credits: Getty Images