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Straight talk from Coonelly, Huntington

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The “Ask Pirates Management” sessions can be the most interesting — and most revealing — part of PirateFest, the one must-see portion of the weekend event. The fans’ questions, even when they are long, rambling and a bit whiny (as was the case once or twice tonight), always are asked from the heart. General manager Neal Huntington and, in particular, president Frank Coonelly usually offer more than blah-blah cliche-driven answers.

Highlights from tonight’s Q&A session on the opening night of PirateFest:

• As he announced the end of the red jersey and introduced the new, black alternate uniform, Coonelly got a round of applause (one of three strong outbursts in the hour-long span) when he said, “We decided to go back to the look of the past. We ARE Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh is black and gold.”

• Right out of the chute, Coonelly got the question he had to know was coming: Why trade Jason Bay and Xavier Nady? “It was a difficult decision to make with Bay,” Coonelly said. “He was the type of player we hope to develop and keep for a long time. We just didn’t have enough quality players to compete. Our long-term goal is not to trade away players as soon as they get good.”

• Huntington revealed the Pirates asked the Yankees this offseason what it would take to get Nady back in a trade: “They wanted three of the young pitchers back,” whom the Pirates got in the deal last July. Apparently, the Yanks would have been willing to let the Pirates keep Jose Tabata.

• While discussing runaway free-agent contracts, Coonelly said the Pirates in December made a $2.5 million offer to third baseman Dayan Viciedo, a Cuban defector. Viciedo, 19, wound up taking a four-year, $10 million deal from the Chicago White Sox.

• The second big round of applause came when someone asked why the Pirates have not re-signed Doug Mientkiewicz. Huntington: “If Doug feels we’re his best option and we feel he’s our best option, there’s still an opportunity for a deal there.” Translation: We’ve both moved on.

• Jack Wilson is noticeably absent from both the Winter Caravan and PirateFest. One fan wondered if it’s not a coincidence, given that Wilson’s in the final year of his contract and is the subject of trade rumors. Not so, said Coonelly, who noted that Wilson’s been a frequent traveler on the Caravan: “Jack’s carried his load. It’s time for some of the younger players to carry their loads.” Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are at PirateFest this year.

• Manager John Russell was applauded when he rose to the defense of slow-starter Adam LaRoche: “Everyone’s gonna struggle one month in a season. Adam’s happens to be the first month. I know a lot of people want to bench Adam. Adam LaRoche works harder than anybody, he busts his butt for this team, and I’m not gonna turn my back on that. Adam LaRoche is gonna play. He’s going to be an integral part of our offense.”

My favorite line of the night came from Coonelly: “Matt Weiters was the minor league player of the year. He should be a Pirate. We won’t make that mistake again.” I don’t believe that’s company-line-speak from the big man; I think it’s gospel. Pirates fans sure oughta hope so.

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