WHILE THE prices for Pirates baseball tickets will go up for the third consecutive year, the cost of attending next week’s annual PirateFest is going down. Way down.

Last year tickets were $12 for adults and $6 for younger fans. This year the cost for admission is $0. The 2015 PirateFest—from noon-7 p.m. Saturday, December 13 and from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, December 14 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center—will be free. Sort of.

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, PirateFest is free for the first time. “Our goal is to constantly improve the fan experience at PirateFest,” said team president Frank Coonelly in a release, “and every year we strive to make the event more interactive for our fans.” Coonelly said that autograph sessions — the most crowded attraction of the two-day baseball love-in — will be ticketed and sold.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today at pirates.com/piratefest or the PNC Park ticket office for each 90-minute session featuring current and/or Pirate alumni and will be limited to a maximum of 200 fans for each session.

“For a donation [of $20] to Pirates Charities and its support of the men and women of the United States military, fans this year will be able to guarantee access to the specific autographs that they desire and will not have to wait in long lines in the hope of securing their desired autograph,” Coonelly explained. “As a result, fans will now be free to spend more of their time exploring all the many interactive experiences available to them at PirateFest.”

All fans who buy autograph tickets will be guaranteed autographs for each session they attend. In addition to the general autograph sessions, there will be other autograph sessions for fans aged 14 and under that will not require a donation to Pirates Charities.

Fans aged 14 and over who donate a new toy will receive a free Pirates Charities ornament (limit: one ornament per eligible fan while supplies last). Toys will be given to children receiving services through the Allegheny County child welfare system.

Saturday’s autograph sessions feature the following current/past players: Starling Marte, Al Oliver, and Jack Wilson from noon-1:30 p.m.; Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, and John Smiley from 1:30-3 p.m.; Vernon Law, Omar Moreno, Rick Reuschel, and John Candelaria from 3-4 p.m.; John Holdzkom, Mike LaValliere, and Doug Drabek from 4-5:30 p.m.; and Francisco Cervelli, Dave Parker, and Bill Virdon from 5:30-7 p.m.

Thirty-minute photo sessions with former players are scheduled Saturday for Bob Walk (noon), Law (1 p.m.), Wilson (2 p.m.), Parker (3 p.m.), Moreno (4 p.m.), Candelaria (5 p.m.), and LaValliere (6 p.m.) Sunday’s autograph sessions feature Mark Melancon, ElRoy Face, and Al Oliver from 10-11:30 a.m.; A.J. Burnett, Dick Groat, and Moreno from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Andrew Lambo, Drabek, and LaValliere from 1-2:30 p.m.; and Parker, Bob Friend, Sid Bream, and Candelaria from 2:30-4 p.m.

Thirty-minute photo sessions with former players are scheduled Sunday for Candelaria (10 a.m.), Friend (11 a.m.), Face (noon), Oliver (1 p.m.), Groat (2 p.m.), John Wehner and Steve Blass (3 p.m.), and Virdon (4 p.m.) The two most popular features on Saturday are a question-and-answer session with all attending players and coaches from 3-4 p.m. followed by a similar Q&A with Coonelly, general manager Neil Huntington, and manager Clint Hurdle from 4-5 p.m.

On Saturday, old television game shows “Card Sharks” and “Deal or No Deal” will get a baseball makeover, while Pirate coaches will conduct clinics for kids, who also will get to grill Jordy Mercer during a kids’ press conference.

Pierogie eating contests and an audition to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a 2015 game complete Saturday’s schedule. On Sunday, “Deal,” pierogies eating, kids’ press conference with Hurdle, coaches clinics, cooking with Andrew McCutchen, and a Q&A with Pirates management and with 1960’s world champions Law, Friend, Groat, Virdon, and Face will take place.

Interactive booths, game tickets, displays, clothing sales, prizes, and food will also be featured.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.

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