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Pirates Pirates hope new ballpark fosters a winning attitude

Players excited about playing in front of big crowds at PNC Park

Sunday, April 15, 2001

By Paul Meyer, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Pirates' move into Three Rivers Stadium almost halfway through the 1970 season touched off a huge run of success for the team.

They won a division championship that season. Another the next season -- and a World Series. And another division championship the year after that.

They won a division championship again in 1974. And again the next year. And capped the 1970s by winning a sixth division championship -- and another World Series -- in 1979.

Which brings us to the Pirates' move into PNC Park.

What can fans expect in the first decade of this new park's history? Over and above the shiny blue seats, limestone siding and real grass in the infield and outfield, that is.

More division championships? A couple of World Series championships? Perhaps even a winning season this year?

And is it realistic to think that simply moving into a new stadium can help the Pirates accomplish any of that?

"I'll tell you what this stadium will do for this team," said veteran pitcher Terry Mulholland, the Laurel Highlands High School product who's old enough to have attended Pirates games at Forbes Field. "It can provide much-needed energy for this team."

Energy would be a start.

"I've played on teams where the people really backed us, and the level of play of the team just seemed to rise," Mulholland said. "A large crowd can do that, whether the fans are for you or against you. That's one thing [the Pirates] have missed out on at home the last several years when they had sub-average teams.

"Three Rivers Stadium was a big concrete cereal bowl, and it kind of just left you flat. When there were 8,000 people in the stands, it was tough to get that little extra."

Well, at PNC Park, at least this season, the Pirates can expect to play in front of 30,000-plus crowds numerous times.

"When you have 30,000 people yelling for you, it can go a long way," Mulholland said.

Outfielder Derek Bell, like Mulholland a free agent signing during the off-season, concurred.

"You have a lot of people cheering for you, it makes you feel better," he said. "It shows the fans believe in us and the kind of product we're putting on the field. No matter what team I've been on, the fans stayed behind us, and that's important."

No question the Pirates, who have slogged through eight consecutive losing seasons, should be able to jump-start their attitude because of the new park and larger crowds.

"It's like having a new house," said first baseman Kevin Young. "Whenever you have a new house -- or a new work environment in any job -- you're excited about it. It raises morale. And from what I hear, PNC Park is going to be a number one class act."

"The whole atmosphere's going to be awesome," catcher Jason Kendall said. Not just in the park, he added, but also around the park on the North Side.

His back-up, Keith Osik, agrees.

"I told [Kendall] two years ago that he should buy a restaurant on the North Side and I'd quit [baseball] and manage it," Osik said.

"That's right," Kendall said. "I'd call the place 'O Dogs' and [Osik] could put on a catcher's mask and stand behind a counter and cook."

The excitement surrounding the opening of their new park fostered a positive feeling among the Pirates as spring training wound down.

And so what if Jason Schmidt, Francisco Cordova and Kris Benson were hurt?

Reality will sink in quickly if the Pirates don't get off to a good start in their new playpen. Then they won't be able to shrug off the injuries to the starting pitchers.

"A new stadium only helps if your team is going to go out and win games," outfielder Brian Giles said. "PNC Park is a beautiful park, but if we don't win games, it will lose its novelty real quick."

Giles was in the Cleveland organization when the Indians moved into Jacobs Field in 1994. The Indians, long dormant in the American League, immediately became winners in the new park.

But not just because they moved.

"Jacobs Field was a lot better than the old stadium in Cleveland," Giles said. "And the town was excited then just like Pittsburgh is now. But when the Indians moved, they didn't have that many question marks about their team."

In fact, the Indians had a ton of exclamation marks when they moved into their new home. More than the Pirates have as they make their move.

When the Indians ran from the dugout for the first time at Jacobs Field, their lineup was filled with young players who would be standouts for the rest of the decade.

The Pirates tried to emulate the Indians by acquiring a boatload of young talent in the mid- to late-1990s and by trying to develop their own young talent. Kendall has become a star. Benson could be on the verge. However, it's too early to say if players such as Aramis Ramirez or Adrian Brown will become stars.

In short, just because the Pirates have a new park doesn't mean they'll become another Cleveland.

"It doesn't always work out," Giles said. "The Indians took a chance and signed their young players to long-term contracts and they all developed into superstars. That doesn't happen often."

As Osik noted: "A guy who hit 25 home runs [in the old stadium] isn't all of a sudden going to hit 50 [in the new park]."

So any fan who expects that these Pirates, who were 69-93 twice in the past three seasons, are in one season going to reverse that record because of PNC Park should get a grip.

Perhaps the fans' approach should be to lower the expectations and raise the volume of cheers and wait to see how this all turns out.

"Initially, people are going to come out to see the new facility," Pat Meares said. "And people will think now that we have a new stadium, we should win. We need to do everything we can to win, but just having a new park shouldn't be the reason we win.

"There should be a much more positive attitude on this team. Not that a baseball stadium should do that, but we're all human. I think everybody has gotten spoiled by all the new ballparks. When we'd come back from Coors Field, for example, into Three Rivers Stadium, the difference was night and day."

It will be up to the players, not the architects who designed PNC Park, to build a winner in Pittsburgh.

"Everybody else has done their part in getting this stadium built," Kendall said. "Now we've got to do our part."

Next: Columnist Ron Cook: Will a new ballpark mean more wins?

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