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Pirates' new majority owner thrust into spotlight

Bob Nutting did not seem to understand why anyone would want his autograph Sunday night when the Pirates kicked off their annual winter caravan at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

"I'm not the star here," Nutting said to Stephen Katchur, who thrust a baseball and pen at the Pirates' chairman of the board.

"Oh, yes, you are," answered Katchur, a season-ticket holder from Johnstown. "You've got the money."

Money, and power too. The Nutting family owns both Seven Springs and a majority stake in the Pirates.

Nutting bought the ski resort last spring. Friday, he became the Pirates' principal owner when control of the franchise was shifted away from former managing general partner Kevin McClatchy.

Unlike McClatchy, who has front-row seats at PNC Park and has been the public face of the franchise since buying it in 1996, Nutting is a mystery to Pirates fans.

Nutting attends games, but never pops up on the video scoreboard. Until Friday, he declined nearly every interview request from local media.

So last night was a debut of sorts for Nutting -- the first time he mingled with the fans since revealing his family owns more than 50 percent of the franchise.

"I didn't really view it in those terms, particularly up here at Seven Springs," Nutting said during a 10-minute respite from the caravan gala. "In the past seven months since the acquisition (of Seven Springs), I've been very visible up here. So I'm not sure I view this as a huge coming-out party as a continuation of relationship with a lot of fans -- fans of the resort and fans of the Pirates."

Gary and Paulette Gianni, of Baldwin, were having dinner in one of the resort's restaurants when they spotted Nutting walking through the room. Gary Gianni got Nutting's autograph right then, and his wife waited until the caravan event.

"He has a lot of high hopes for the Pirates, so we're hoping he pulls it through," Paulette Gianni said.

"He might put a little more money into the team," Gary Gianni said. "Maybe he got tired of the abuse (from frustrated fans) and figures it's time to do something."

Like most fans, Chris Cooper, who drove in from Johnstown, said he doesn't know much about Nutting. After chatting with Nutting for a minute or two, Cooper said he is withholding judgment ... for now.

"We'll see," Cooper said. "I don't think it's going to be much of a difference between him and McClatchy. I think it's more of a title-change thing. He seems nice enough, so I'm to go with the positive vibe."

More than a thousand fans attended last night's event, which featured a free autograph session with Pirates pitchers Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Matt Capps and Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski.

The players were aware their boss was in the house.

"We'd see him around (before), but now he's going to be more vocal and visible," Maholm said. "It's great to see him wanting to get out there and show people that he wants to win."

Nutting, dressed in a crisp Oxford shirt bearing the Pirates logo, drew scant attention compared to the crowd that queued up for Maz. But nearly everyone who did stop to talk with him offered support.

"It's tremendous," Nutting said. "Really reassuring. I think it really shows the passion so many people have for the Pirates and the hope they have for the continued improvement we've been talking about.

"The Pirates are a critically important piece of people's lives. Getting a chance to come out and see the team -- the real celebrities -- and see me has been fun for everybody."

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