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Pirates players return to roots

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:31 a.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez talks with Andrew McCutchen in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run against the Marlins on Sunday, July 22, 2012, at PNC Park.

John Prosperi remembers how excited everyone was when the Pirates came to Altoona in 2000.

The Curve had arrived in Altoona in 1999, and that was a big enough deal even before the major league club came to town for an exhibition game. Prosperi, president of the Curve booster club, still has a picture from that day on his refrigerator.

On Saturday, the Pirates return to Altoona for an exhibition against their Double-A affiliate for the first time since then, and Prosperi said it's far more exciting now.

“So many of the players on the (Pirates) have come through Altoona,” he said. “There's a bond there with these people. I think it's beyond exciting; over the top, really.”

The Pirates' 2012 Opening Day roster featured 10 former Curve players, including Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. The connection between the community and the players who come through Altoona is strong. Players sometimes live with host families.

Members of the booster club not only shuttle players but also their families to and from the airport and provide water and snacks for long bus trips, Prosperi said.

Many still keep in touch with the players after they've moved on.

“I think based on the fact that the thing's been sold out how many months is a tribute to the Pirates but also shows the community support for the game,” Prosperi said. “I can't imagine how people can't be excited. … Unfortunately it's the time of year the weather (will be cold) but I don't think it's going to stop too many people. I think people are really going to be into this.”

Tony Watson, also a Curve alum, said he thinks the game will be a blast.

“I have a lot of good memories there,” he said. “A lot of guys in this clubhouse played there on good teams and had a lot of fun in that stadium. A lot of familiar faces, some of them we saw in spring training. I know they're excited for us to get there.”

Curve general manager Rob Egan said tickets to the game went on sale Dec. 1 and were gone early Dec. 3. With standing-room only sales, Egan said they are currently expecting more than 9,500 people to attend. An additional 300 standing-room tickets went on sale Friday morning and quickly sold out.

“We should see this place hold as many people as have ever been here,” Egan said. “It should be the largest crowd ever at this facility.”

The game starts at 2 p.m. and temperatures are expected to be in the upper 40s.

The snow that fell Monday had melted off by mid-week, and Egan said they were hoping the field dried a little more before the game.

“If we had to play right now there would only be a couple spots we'd be concerned about,” he said.

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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