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The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Return of Andrew McCutchen – a postmortem

Brett Barnett

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On Friday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates started a three game series against the San Francisco Giants, perhaps a rather innocuous series any other season. But there was a sort of palpable electricity, one that PNC Park had been void of for the last two seasons.

Andrew McCutchen made his highly anticipated return to the city where it all started. Nine years ago, in front of 20,683 fans, a young kid from Florida made his Major League debut just off the lip of the Allegheny River at PNC Park. He went two for four with an RBI. Who would’ve thought it would come to this?

It was strange to see McCutchen back in Pittsburgh and not wearing the famous black and gold, but wearing black and orange instead. But the smile was the same, the movements were the same, and the dignity was the same – the only difference was the uniform. The Giants’ right fielder spent his pregame time signing autographs for eager young fans that didn’t know Pirates baseball without him. There were signs expressing admiration and love for him, from fans young to old. As the fans were filing into their respective seats, Andrew McCutchen took the field for some final pregame warmups. He wasn’t the only one warming up. It was at this point McCutchen received his first standing ovation from the Bucco faithful, but it wouldn’t be the last.

McCutchen trotted out to centerfield to reconnect with old teammates, like Jordy Mercer, Sean Rodriguez, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, and David Freese. The fans roared around him, awaiting the first pitch of the game and the return of the man that seemingly revived an organization. It was a small gesture of what was to come when McCutchen took his first at-bat back.

As Gregor Blanco proceeded through his first at-bat of the game, the tension throughout PNC Park was mounting, as Andrew McCutchen stood in the on deck circle, awaiting his first at bat in PNC Park since September 27 of last year. Blanco lined out to Marte in centerfield. Before the ball was even back in the infield, and before Pirates public address announcer Tim DeBacco could even utter McCutchen’s name, the 34,720 fans on hand were on their feet, clapping, yelling, and showing their gratitude and appreciation to one of the Pirates’ greats.

The ovation lasted a total of one minute and 36 seconds, and it couldn’t have been more fitting. It was as though it was a moment suspended in time, the past colliding with the present, and paying homage to the future and legacy that is Andrew McCutchen. A quick video played as McCutchen approached the plate, and he took a moment to reflect on the fans, the video, and undoubtedly his time in Pittsburgh. Then, he removed his helmet and tipped it towards the sky, showing a gesture of appreciation to the fans that cheered so hard for him as recently as last season. As McCutchen looked around and soaked the moment in, it was clear it was an emotional time for him, and it was perhaps equally as emotional for those in attendance.

McCutchen showed his appreciation with this Instagram post after the game:

Thank you. A moment I will never forget 🙏

A post shared by Andrew McCutchen (@cutchtwenty2) on

Pirates beat writer Adam Berry tweeted about the crowd’s reaction:

Finally, the video of Andrew McCutchen before taking his first at-bat:

Baseball is a beautiful sport, but there’s no moment more beautiful than a reunion between a player and his former team’s fans that ended abruptly, but with no ill will. McCutchen ended up going one for five with a double. It seemed the sentiment was conflicted on how the fans wanted to approach McCutchen’s at bats. But things became a bit clearer when McCutchen lined a ball down into the left field corner for his only hit of the game; at that point, McCutchen received another standing ovation. Things had an opportunity to get really interesting when McCutchen came up in the 8th inning with the bases loaded. Had McCutchen come through and driven in all three runs, or perhaps four, the crowd may have reacted positively, an unfamiliar sight for a visiting team; alas, that story cannot be told, as McCutchen grounded out 5-4 on a fielder’s choice.

Pittsburgh is not a city that easily forgets its sports’ heroes. Dubbed the city of champions, Pittsburgh is a staple of the classic American sports town. The Penguins have become the gold standard for hockey, while the Steelers have kept up a winning tradition nearly unparalleled in the NFL. The Pirates, with its illustrious history, including some of the greatest players and people of all-time, five World Championships, and a continuing hunger to perform, look to join the ranks of their athletic brethren. Andrew McCutchen was a major part of this team’s resurrection, and that’s not something the city of Pittsburgh will take lightly, nor will it soon forget the contribution he made to the team and the community.

While it’s true the Pirates may provide a better on field product this season without McCutchen versus if he was still on the roster, that doesn’t make the separation any less difficult. There was a considerably higher turnout on Friday night as opposed to the average attendance at PNC Park this season (13,838), and for good reason. There are still many fans who have misdirected and perhaps erroneous anger towards the Pirates front office, and more specifically owner Bob Nutting. It was refreshing to see a full PNC Park. It had the feel of a playoff game – a feeling the city is craving to feel again.

Regardless of how some fans feel about how the organization is being run, it was nice to see everyone put aside their differences in order to support Andrew McCutchen. It might be going too far out on a limb to claim that Andrew McCutchen is the complete reason the Pirates were pulled out of futility, but it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to call PNC Park “The House that Cutch Built.” Sure, some people will scoff at that, but he was the face of the franchise when the Pirates broke the record of consecutive losing seasons, made the playoffs, and won a Wild Card game and advanced, nearly knocking off the Cardinals in an attempt to advance to the NLCS.

It’s hard to quantify what Andrew McCutchen meant to the Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh. Perhaps you could rely on stats, but there’s more to it than that. Andrew McCutchen was the face of a city and of a franchise. He was the heart and soul of an organization that battled futility for two decades, and he was crucial in enabling the franchise to step from the ashes and emerge as a true competitor. While McCutchen and the Pirates couldn’t attain the ultimate goal of winning a World Series, his peak seasons were full of fun, excitement, and reasons to be on the North Shore on warm, summer nights.

It’s true that things will proceed without Andrew McCutchen in black and gold, and true, it won’t be the same, but the memories that were cultivated in PNC Park, from home runs off his bat, to diving catches in centerfield, those snapshots will live on forever, going down in Pirates baseball lore.

When it’s all said and done, Andrew McCutchen will go down as one of the most prominent and important figures in Pittsburgh Pirates baseball history.

Thank you, 22.

 

I am from Columbus, OH, and am a fan of Ohio State. I attended East Tennessee State University and majored in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in Marketing and Journalism. I run a Pirates website called Pirates Review. I am also a reporter at The Cardinal Nation, covering the Rookie affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Johnson City Cardinals. I also work on providing players analysis at The Collegiate Baseball Network. I am a lifelong Pirates fan, and make the six hour drive to Pittsburgh as often as I can.

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Parsing GM speak, living with Gregory Polanco and more

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On the latest episode of Locked on Pirates, host Jason Rollison explains how to parse GM Speak, how to live with Gregory Polanco and wonders out loud if the Washington Nationals just opened the floodgates.

All that and more on the latest episode of Locked on Pirates, live for your listening pleasure:

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

Using something other than these three? Just search for “Locked on Pirates” in your podcast app of choice.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

Off Day Mailbag with 93.7 The Fan’s Josh Taylor

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On this episode of Locked on Pirates, host Jason Rollison brings in Josh Taylor of 93.7 The Fan to help answer your burning Pittsburgh Pirates questions and more.

The latest episode of Locked on Pirates is available for your listening pleasure. Each off day, we open up our mailbag to your various gripes, salient points and even more gripes (understandable) to help us get through the off day.

Josh is always a great guest, and together we talk Jung Ho Kang, Gregory Polanco and so much more. It’s an engaging bout of Pirates talk without the BS. We hope you enjoy, and if you do please consider subscribing at the links below!

NOTE: Had some audio issues a the beginning which level out at around the 1:00 minute mark. 

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

Using something other than these three? Just search for “Locked on Pirates” in your podcast app of choice.

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The Locked on Interview – Adam McInturff from 2080 Baseball

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In the return of Locked on Pirates and the Locked on Pirates interview, Alex Stumpf talks the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates draft with 2080 Baseball’s Adam McInturff. Together the duo go through the 2018 Pirates draft and talk about some of the lesser-known prospects for the West Virginia Power.

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Beginning with Opening Day, Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the buttons below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

 

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