WASHINGTON — Pirates President Frank Coonelly was in a suite at Nationals Park on Tuesday when Nats whiz kid Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut.
Coonelly saw the sellout crowd and the herd of local and national media. He felt the buzz around town, as folks in Washington for one day forgot about the soaring budget deficit, sluggish economy and the Gulf oil leak.
“It was a very exciting evening,” Coonelly said. “it was a great night for the Washington Nationals, to have that kind of excitement even before the first pitch was thrown.”
As he looked around, Coonelly had to be thinking what it would be like to have that kind of energy at PNC Park.
It could happen. All the Pirates need to do is call up Pedro Alvarez, the second overall draft pick in 2008 and the top player in their farm system. If he’s ready, they could do it, say … Tuesday at the start of a six-game homestand.
Of course, Alvarez would not generate the same level of national hype as Strasburg, who’s already sent his cap and ball from Tuesday’s game to the Hall of Fame. But the Pirates — whose average home attendance (17,828) is the fourth-lowest in the majors — could expect a significant boost from Alvarez’s arrival.
“We won’t force a player onto our major league roster before our development people say he’s ready just to sell tickets,” Coonelly said.
Still, it would be logical for management to choose a home date for Alvarez’s arrival.
Would the game sell out? Maybe not. But with the right kind of planning, which means putting the word out with enough time for fans to buy tickets, it could come close.
Last year, Andrew McCutchen got a surprise callup on a Wednesday night when Nate McLouth was traded. McCutchen made his debut the next afternoon against the Mets, and the Pirates drew 20,683 — including 3,494 last-minute walkup ticket sales.
Wednesday, the Pirates called up two of their “Big Three” top prospects, waiting until just a few hours before game time to officially announce the news. When pitcher Brad Lincoln and outfielder Jose Tabata played in their first game that night, only 18,000 folks were in the seats at Nationals Park.
“It would’ve been nice if it would’ve been 40,000 fans in Pittsburgh to come watch them,” McCutchen said.
Tabata will be stationed in left field Tuesday, when the Pirates face the Chicago White Sox at PNC Park. Lincoln will be the starting pitcher. McCutchen and Neil Walker already are fixtures in the lineup. All the pieces of the Pirates’ future — except one — are in place.
Assuming he’s proven himself in the minors, it would be a fine time to send Alvarez to Pittsburgh.