New Castle News

Sports

April 2, 2013

Opening Day 2013: Pirates fans endure cold to watch Bucs fall to Cubs

PITTSBURGH — Say what you want about them, those who packed PNC Park on Monday afternoon were anything but fair-weather fans.

It's one thing to face a losing streak reaching 20 consecutive seasons. But it's quite another thing to do it in biting wind and temperatures reaching into the 30s.

Bob Kepics, 78, and his wife, Mary, wouldn't miss it.

"I've seen good and I've seen bad, but we've endured it all," said Mr. Kepics, who drove from Leechburg in Armstrong County to be among the 39,000-plus braving the chill to witness a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Kepics has been to 61 of the past 65 opening day games, including all 13 at PNC Park. A former sandlot player and mill worker, he started attending as a youth, skipping school and hitchhiking to old Forbes Field in Oakland. (One year, it was his principal who pulled over to pick him up. They continued on to the ballpark.)

Not all the kids had to skip school Monday. Luke Mary and Garrett Miller, 13-year-old boys from Peters, had the day off.

Their streak of Opening Day games is just beginning.

"It's still fun to watch. I love baseball," said Luke.

"It's the atmosphere and how it feels," said Garrett, who said it didn't feel all that cold to him. "My mom made me dress nice and warm. She made sure I wouldn't be cold."

The day started under gray skies with snowflakes whirling across windshields and into the faces of those turning out early to tailgate on the North Shore.

Randy Turin, 48, a bar manager from Greensburg, said his group usually numbers around 30 or so fans crowding around the grill, beers in hand, getting ready for a season in the sun.

"But it's a little sparse this year," he said amid the empty parking spaces in the lot directly across the street from the ballpark.

"Some of us actually get hotel rooms now," he said, gesturing to the relatively new buildings that have usurped so much of what used to be prime tailgate property. "We get older. So now some of our group are sitting up there. They come down for something to eat and get a beer, but then they go back up and get warm. They're doing shifts.

"It's very nice. And the hotel is a lot better to go to than the port-a-potties."

Just before noon, the clouds pulled apart and the snow stopped. Suddenly, all the elements you'd expect in an opening day were in place. Blue sky, sunshine and green grass.

Pirates starter A.J. Burnett threw the first pitch at 1:41 p.m., when the temperature reached 41 degrees. It would take a while for the seats to fill up, but the faithful came.

At times, however, the park seemed quiet. With the Pirates mustering only two hits through the first eight innings, there wasn't a lot to cheer about.

The most common sound in the stands was the buzz of conversation as baseball fans reunited after six months of hibernation.

"We've gone to every one since the stadium's opened," said Bill Glover, 36, who traveled from Columbus, Ohio, to go to the game with his cousin, Dave Ruscetti, 33, of Richland.

"It's a yearly tradition," Glover said. "I venture over from Ohio and spend some time with my family in Pittsburgh. I'm originally from New Castle. I've always had a lot of connections here."

"My cousin comes in, that makes it special," Ruscetti said. "It doesn't matter that it's cold. Although we normally sit in the lower deck, but since the opener was so early this year, we didn't want to roll the dice. So we decided to get club seats in case the weather was awful."

Candice Lackey, 38, of North Huntingdon, attended the game with her 8-year-old son, Brady.

"I usually come with my mother," Lackey said, "but she recently had surgery, and I thought I would take my son and do the tradition with him. It was really cold, but we made it through."

Brady wasn't overly impressed with the opening day part of the proceedings. He said it seemed "like a regular game" to him.

"I was sorry they lost," he said. "That was upsetting. But I'm going to keep rooting for them. Because they're the Pirates."

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