By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist
WHILE THE calendar would dispute it, for baseball fans, winter ends today, a few minutes after 1 p.m. when the Pittsburgh Pirates take McKechnie Field and Francisco Liriano throws his first pitch against the New York Yankees. Even better, we can listen to winter melt into spring as the game will be carried on 93.7 The Fan, the first of 16 such broadcasts, some of which will also be aired locally by the stations that are part of the team’s radio network.
Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle says that the team’s top winner from last season will be followed by newcomer Edinson Volquez. Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, Duke Welker, and Josh Kinney are also slated to pitch, each hurler tossing one inning.
Tomorrow, Charlie Morton will get the start in Tampa, again against the Yankees. Morton is scheduled to throw two innings, followed by Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton for two innings each. Minor leaguers Yao-Hsun Yang, Daniel Schlereth, and Cody Eppley are scheduled for an inning each.
On Friday at Toronto’s Dunedin home, Gerrit Cole will throw two innings against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., and on Saturday, Wandy Rodriguez is slated to start in Bradenton against Tampa and pitch for two innings. Hurdle had not released the rest of the pitching participants at this column’s deadline.
The Bucs will be on TV six times this spring, including the 1:05 p.m. Monday, March 24 game on ESPN against the Tigers. Root Sports will air the other five games: Sunday, March 9 with Boston; Monday, March 17 against the Yankees; and Saturday, March 29 against the Phillies is Philadelphia, with all four games starting at 1:05 p.m.
Two 7:05 p.m. games will also air: Wednesday, March 19 at the Red Sox and Friday, March 21 at the Yankees.
During the season, the Bucs will have four home games broadcast nationally, including the Sunday, May 11 game against the Cardinals, which has been moved to 8:05 p.m. The broadcast is the first Sunday night game ever aired from PNC Park and the first time the Bucs will have played on Sunday night since a road appearance in 2002.
Opening Day with the Cubs has been changed to a 1:05 p.m. start to accommodate ESPN’s national schedule of televised games. The game will also air on Root Sports.
Two other games will also change game times. The Saturday, May 24 game vs. Washington will begin at 7:15 p.m. as the game has been chosen for an exclusive FOX national telecast. And the Saturday, August 30 game vs. the Cincinnati Reds will start 4:05 p.m. and be aired nationally on Fox Sports 1. The game was originally scheduled as a Skyblast game featuring Gavin DeGraw; the post-game concert will still take place, but the fireworks night will be moved to a date to be announced.
The networks may schedule additional team appearances at a later time, according to team reports.
All five long-time broadcasters return for the Pirates: play-by-play men Greg Brown (21 years) and Tim Neverett (6) will be joined by color analysts Bob Walk (21), Steve Blass (29), and John Wehner (10), all three of whom also played for the Bucs.
Brown is the ideal homer, reminding fans of Bob Prince, thanks to his signature calls like “Raise the Jolly Roger” and “Clear the deck—cannonball comin’!” Only Prince and Lanny Frattare have called more games than Brown, who last season surpassed the 3,200 game mark.
Walk is generally regarded as in the top tier of analysts, and Blass is in his 55th season of association with the team, since signing his first professional contract on June 27, 1960. For the 10th year, Blass will work only home games.
Wehner again will work all road games and a few games at PNC Park. He hit the last home run in the history of Three Rivers Stadium on October 1, 2000; he also made the final out at the stadium.
Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for Allied News.