ALTOONA — I’m getting a couple of “off” days — that is, working but not covering the Pirates, per se — so Johnny Grupp will put aside his thoroughbred notes and work the two-game set in St. Louis.
Tonight, I’m at Blair County Ballpark, watching the home debut of Jose Tabata with Double-A Altoona.
Tabata is wearing uniform No. 26 and batting second in the lineup. He singled in his first at-bat, but was erased when Jim Negrych, the former Pitt standout, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
It’s only been 3 1/2 weeks since the trade that swapped Tabata and three other guys for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. Tonight marks Tabata’s 10th game with Altoona — he spent two weeks in Bradenton, Fla., rehabbing a sore hammy.
“I felt very welcome from the day I showed up,” Tabata said. “I can’t believe how I was joking around with guys on the second day. I didn’t expect that.”
Although he is a newcomer in the Pirates’ farm system, Tabata already has played at PNC Park. As a 17-year-old in 2006, Tabata was the youngest player in the Futures Game in Pittsburgh.
“I feel a little weird, knowing I’m going to be back at that ballpark, but playing for the home team,” Tabata said, smiling. “One thing that feels so good about playing for the Pirates is, my favorite player is Roberto Clemente. I feel so good to be with the Pirates.”
For more details on Tabata, check out Wednesday’s Trib.