Bucs praise crazy crowds at PNC Park

YOUNGSTOWN – The newest member of the Pittsburgh Pirates spent last October wishing, hoping and dreaming for a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.

“I watched the Pirates in the playoffs on my TV,” said Jaff Decker. “Those are the kind of games I’ve wanted to play in since I was a little kid.”

Decker, 23, has been in the San Diego Padres organization since he was drafted out of Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Ariz., as a first round selection in 2008. On Nov. 25, Decker, along with pitcher Miles Mikolas, was traded to the Pirates in exchange for first baseman Alex Dickerson.

“I’m excited to help this team and hopefully go further than what they did last year,” Decker said at the Butler Institute of American Art on Wednesday as part of the Pirates annual caravan event. “What they have going for them is pretty special and I’m glad to be a part of it now.

“Knowing how long it’s been since they’ve made the playoffs and won a World Series you want to be a part of a special team that has potential to do that.”

Pittsburgh relief pitcher Jared Hughes was chosen by the Pirates in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. Even then he knew the organization’s goals to turnaround a major league team that hadn’t had a winning season in 20 years.

“We needed to win,” Hughes said. “It was this big cloud just sitting over you. Last year, we got to win, we got to get to the playoffs and it was just awesome. It was better than I expected and I think that we’re ready to do it again.”

Hughes, however, did have one problem with the record-setting crowds that packed PNC Park for its three home playoff games.

“The fans are going nuts waving the black towels that they gave out around their heads,” he said. “In the dugout, this black rain of lint was falling down. Every time something good happened you had to cover your face.

“Just being there, being a part of it, was so special. The fans went above and beyond anything you could ever expect, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

The Pirates finished the 2013 regular season with a 94-68 record. On Sept. 3, they defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 in Milwaukee to win their 81st game of the season, clinching their first non-losing season since 1992. Then, following a four-game losing streak, the Pirates defeated the Texas Rangers 1-0 on September 9 for their 82nd win, clinching their first winning season in 21 years.

With a Pittsburgh win over the Chicago Cubs and a Washington Nationals loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates clinched a playoff berth on Sept. 23.

Nobody knows the tribulations of being invested in the Pirates organization more than Steve Blass. In a 10-year playing career with Pittsburgh, Blass won more than 100 games and pitched a complete game in Game 7 of the 1971 World Series, lifting the Pirates to a clinching win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Blass is now a color commentator for Pirates radio and television broadcasts.

“It was fabulous,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for this for 20 years. We had previews in 2011 and 2012, but it just all came together. The city bought into it; the city embraced it.

“We always said that if we had a ball club to match the ballpark, it would be a circus-type atmosphere and it was. There were 20 sell outs and over 2.2 million fans at the park. It really brought back the absolute fact of how good of a baseball town Pittsburgh is. It has the heritage, it was the legacy and fans who get behind their ball club.”

The Pirates’ 6-2 Wild Card Game win over the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park attracted 40,487 fans to the first taste of postseason baseball since Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Doug Drabek led the 1992 Pirates to the National League Championship Series.

“I’ve seen Super Bowls, Stanley Cup finals, great college basketball games and I’ve never seen the electricity that I saw at that Wild Card game,” Blass said. “It was like 20 years had been compressed into one night. It looked like the fans had all been practicing making noise in unison. It was a loud 40,000 person choir. It was an absolute delight, at that point, to put a cap on the season. Plus, we even got a little further.”

The Pirates led two games to one in the Division Series against St. Louis until Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright pitched brilliantly in consecutive games to end the Pirates’ magical season.

“Getting a little taste of it just makes me work harder so that we can do it again and go even further,” Hughes said.

Pirates centerfielder and National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen was also slated to attend the private event, which was titled “Adopt an Art Class,” but his plane from Los Angeles was delayed on Wednesday afternoon.

McCutchen was out west taping an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show.