Pittsburgh Pirate championship fever beginning to rise in Bradenton

rdymond@bradenton.comMarch 26, 2014 

PALMETTO -- William Stanley "Bill" Mazerowski hit the only home run to win a Game 7 in a World Series on Oct. 13, 1960, the exact birthday of Patti Boslet of Altoona, Pa.

Ed Boslet, Patti's husband and also an Altoona resident, was at the last baseball game ever played in 1971 at "The House of Thrills," Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

Jay Perry of Altoona was a minor league outfielder in the Cleveland Indians chain and was signed by longtime Indian scout Laddie Placek , who also signed Roger Maris.

Fred "Slugger" Woods of Altoona might have been a Philadelphia Phillies star if he hadn't broken his foot.

All four of those Pittsburgh Pirates baseball fans and 14 others from Altoona were at the Bradenton Convention Center Tuesday as part of an enthusiastic crowd of 500 Pirates jersey-wearing fans who packed the venue

for the annual "Send them Back Home" Banquet.

These Altoona fans were the real deal. They called Pirate outfielder Andrew McCutchen "Cutch" and could spell the names of Jose Tabata, Jason Grilli, Gerrit Cole and even Stolmy Pimentel.

The mood was upbeat all night as Pirate Manager Clint Hurdle, General Manager Neal Huntington, President Frank Coonelly and radio personalities Greg Brown and Steve Blass told the crowd this is the year when the team could bring the first World Series championship to the newest Pirates home field, 13-year-old PNC.

"At last year's banquet, they passed the microphone around and some fans took potshots at the players," said Slugger Woods' wife, Barbara. "This year that did not happen."

Every spring, the Altoona fans and their hometown sportswriter, Jim Lane of the Altoona Mirror, fly, take Amtrak or drive to sunny Bradenton to catch Pirates spring games. Unlike the past two decades, the Pirates are now loaded with talent and fan fever is burning bright.

"It's a lot tougher for Red Sox and Phillies fans to get seats at McKechnie Field," Huntington said. "We have the NL Manager of the Year, Clint Hurdle, the NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen and the NL Comeback Player of the Year, Francisco Liriano."

Omens this spring point to an amazing year, said Ed Boslet, who ranks himself one of the biggest Pirates fan in the world and counts Neil Walker as his favorite player.

Take Tuesday. Well, let Hurdle describe it talking about Tuesday's 22-5 exhibition victory over the Toronto Blue Jays

"If I would have told you that we would have a game where (pitcher) Wandy Rodriguez would have two RBI, would anyone have believed me," Hurdle said.

"We've got to thank Clint for putting the reserves in or we never would have made the banquet," Brown said.

The Altoona fans all say they believe the Pirates will improve on last year's first winning season and playoff berth since 1992. But can they go all the way to the World Series?

The Pirates brass said yes. Altoona is on board.

"It would be wonderful if it happens," said Barbara Woods with a wink.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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