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December 28, 2012
by trib


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Pitt’s disappearing Class of 2011

Now that Pitt has announced that Marcus Gilbert is transferring — word is that he could choose to join his brother, Marcus, at Fairfield University — the Panthers can look at his departure a number of ways:

In a disturbing trend, Gilbert is the fourth member of Pitt’s 2011 recruiting class to leave the program, following Khem Birch (UNLV), Jaylen Bond (Texas) and John Johnson (Penn State). Only Durand Johnson remains.

Gilbert’s transfer leaves the Panthers perilously thin at center, though not necessarily this season because the 6-foot-11 sophomore was planning to redshirt. Pitt has freshman Steve Adams and senior Dante Taylor, and can move Talib Zanna to the post in a pinch. But Taylor’s eligibility expires after the season, and Adams could opt to leave for the NBA (though that’s not expected). Either way, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon will need to sign a center.

The good news is that the Panthers now have two scholarships available for the Class of 2013, which already includes 6-foot-8 power forward Michael Young and 6-1 guard Josh Newkirk. Dixon could opt to sign a junior-college transfer, though he would have to hope for another Ontario Lett instead of the next Cassin Diggs or Doyle Hudson.

On a related note, I will be covering the Panthers for the remainder of this season, starting with their Big East Conference opener against Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve. I will try to provide additional coverage here and on Twitter @KGorman_Trib. Also, feel free to email me at kgorman@tribweb.com.

– Kevin Gorman

November 19, 2012
by trib


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A big recruit for Pitt (Part II)

Unfortunately, my last blog entry posted to the web before I was finished, and I didn’t realize it.

To pick up where I left off…

Tyler Boyd apparently is much more interested in Pitt than ever before. Where West Virginia was once believed to be his leader, the Mountaineers’ defensive demise during their five-game losing streak has the Clairton receiver prospect worried that he could be moved to safety out of necessity. Where Boyd once was high on Penn State, the NCAA sanctions against the Nittany Lions have hurt their cause. (Even so, Boyd is supposed to visit Penn State this weekend). Boyd also is considering Arizona, Michigan State and Wisconsin, and was scheduled to take an official visit to Madison last weekend for the Ohio State game but ran into a stumbling block: He turned 18 last Thursday and doesn’t have government-issued identification, which is required to board an airplane.

After the Clairton-Neshannock WPIAL Class A semifinal game Friday night at Chartiers-Houston, I asked Boyd about his impending visit to Pitt. He seemed interested in playing with former Clairton great Kevin Weatherspoon and Bears teammate Titus Howard, a cornerback who committed to the Panthers in June, as well as possibly playing alongside fellow WPIAL stars Foster and Johnson, not to mention Panthers tailback Rushel Shell.

“In my eyes,” Boyd said, “they’ve got championship hopes if we were to go there.”

Pitt already has commitments from seven Western Pennsylvania prospects, including five from the WPIAL: South Fayette receiver Zach Challingsworth, Clairton’s Howard, Belle Vernon’s Johnson, Seton-La Salle tight end Scott Orndoff and Gateway fullback/H-back Jaymar Parrish. The Panthers also have commitments from McDowell defensive end James Conner and Milford Academy defensive tackle Tyrique Jarrett, an Allderdice alum.

Boyd not only grew up with Jarrett, who has Clairton roots, but they are stepbrothers.

Don’t be surprised if Pitt gets involved with two more WPIAL prospects, both of whom are committed to Mid-American Conference schools. The Panthers could go after Clairton receiver Terrish Webb, a Kent State recruit, if Foster falls through. And Brentwood coach Kevin Kissel said that the Panthers are showing interest in Mike Kish, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end who has committed to Akron, to play center. Kish hasn’t played the position since midget football but would likely switch schools if offered a scholarship.

November 19, 2012
by trib


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A big recruit for Pitt

In its most important recruiting weekend of the season, Pitt used a bye to say hello to three top WPIAL targets who were making official visits: receivers Tyler Boyd of Clairton and Robert Foster of Central Valley and offensive tackle Dorian Johnson of Belle Vernon.

The star of the Class of 2012, Panthers freshman tailback Rushel Shell promised to sell Pitt to WPIAL recruits, and saw a vision of being surrounded by Western Pennsylvania talent with that trio and classmates in tight end J.P. Holtz (Shaler) and tackle Adam Bisnowaty (Fox Chapel).  

Dorian Johnson’s commitment to Pitt Sunday night made it a success, especially since he already canceled a scheduled visit to Ohio State for the Michigan game. A four-star recruit rated the nation’s No. 2 tackle prospect by ESPN’s Scouts, Inc., Johnson is Pitt’s fifth WPIAL recruit from the Class of 2013 and the seventh from Western Pennsylvania.

Johnson joins a class that includes South Fayette receiver Zach Challingsworth, Clairton cornerback Titus Howard, Seton-La Salle tight end Scott Orndoff and Gateway fullback/H-back Jaymar Parrish, along with Milford Academy defensive tackle Tyrique Jarrett and McDowell defensive end James Conner. 

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

I wrote a column about Johnson and Foster sharing the same field, sort of, when Belle Vernon played Central Valley in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs. Before that game, Johnson said he could have seen them as future teammates, “if it’s Pitt.”

If you’re reading between the lines, it sounds like Johnson didn’t believe Foster was seriously considering Ohio State even though the Buckeyes were one of Foster’s three finalists. If you follow Foster on Twitter and saw this tweet, it appears he is down to Pitt and Alabama. 

My mamma likes PITT n my daddy likes BAMA but the best thing about it they both said they will b there no matter wat ILOVEMYPARENTS

September 19, 2011
by trib


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ACC/Big East and Beano

Not to say that I predicted Pitt would leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference, especially not the manner in which Pitt and Syracuse bolted from the Big East this past weekend, but I did foreshadow how Pitt could fit into the ACC after the Big East’s expansion talks made it look small.

That the Big East’s solution to conference expansion was to add Texas Christian University, whose ranking ensured an automatic BCS berth, and maybe Villanova wasn’t acceptable to the league’s eight football-playing members. After all, Pitt, Connecticut, Syracuse and West Virginia also have been the top basketball programs the past few years in a league ripe for another raid now that the super-conference restructuring is under way.

Pitt can blame Big East commissioner John Marinatto all it wants but Pitt chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg co-chaired the six-man search committee charged with finding Mike Tranghese’s successor. Where I’ve gone on record saying that the idea of Pitt switching to the Big Ten would have been a bad move, the Panthers had no choice but to be proactive at a time when the college conference landscape is changing so dramatically.

Which brings me to Beano Cook.

I talked with the legendary college football analyst Sunday night to get his reaction. As usual, Beano was never short on hyperbole.

“If there are four conferences with 16 teams and Pitt was not included in one of these conferences, in five years they would have dropped big-time football,” Cook said. “They would have had no choice. Pitt would be playing Duquesne, Robert Morris and Carnegie Tech.”

Or, as it’s now known, Carnegie Mellon.

“I thought if Pitt went anywhere, it would be the ACC. They weren’t going to the Big Ten. I never thought they had a chance. If you told me the ACC was going to 16 teams, I would have said Pitt would be one of them.”

Cook went so far as to say that the move to the ACC “saved” Pitt and Syracuse football, to predict that Notre Dame will join the Big Ten and the formation of four superconferences (ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern) will pave the way for a four-team playoff to decide the national championship game.

That would be, as Cook likes to say, unbelievable.

August 31, 2011
by trib


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‘Boy Scouts of Baseball’

 An interesting post-script to my Little League, Big Business story in Sunday’s paper came via a phone call from Alex DelVecchio, a 39-year-old father of five whose passion for youth baseball compelled him to share a story of saving Little League Baseball in one community.

DelVecchio played on Ingomar’s Little League team that reached the state playoffs in 1984, falling short of the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Six years later, he was a pitcher when North Allegheny won the WPIAL baseball championship.

“It’s an issue near and dear to my heart,” said DelVecchio, who was a walk-on at Villanova. “I had great Little League, high school and college experiences but my best memories were in Little League.”

When Ingomar/Franklin Park gave up its Little League charter to switch to Bronco rules baseball – which offers different diamond dimensions and allows runners to take leads and steal bases – DelVecchio acted by helping to from North Allegheny Little League Baseball, for which he is president.

The association has no formal ties to the North Allegheny school district – its team colors are red, white and blue instead of black and gold – other than it allows everyone within district boundaries to play. What DelVecchio says the association emphasizes is the Little League experience, which he referred to as the “Boy Scouts of Baseball.”

“People look at baseball so technically now and forget Little League Baseball and its message,” DelVecchio said. “We really promoted sportsmanship. We say the Little League pledge before every game. There’s no focus on the elite athlete. We believe there’s more to baseball than fielding a ground ball.”

In its first year, North Allegheny’s Little League had “a great turnout,” DelVecchio said, with 52 players this summer. They played interleague games with District 4 members Collier and Quaker Valley, and he believes that because of its sheer size North Allegheny is in “prime position” to someday advance to the Little League World Series.

DelVecchio also feels that playing by Little League rules benefits 11- and 12-year-olds, especially the smaller ones who often reach base on bloop singles over the infield that would be outs on Bronco fields.

“We feel Little League prepares the kids better than Bronco rules,” DelVecchio said. “Kids don’t know how to hold runners at 11. They don’t know about the subtleties of it. It becomes a chaotic game. Bronco is kids trying to play by rules that aren’t appropriate for them. …

“Parents are desperate and competitive for their kids to make those (travel) teams. They think their kids need to play at those advanced dimensions. Baseball at 11 and 12 is about pitching, hitting and catching the ball.”

June 29, 2011
by trib


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Let’s (not) make a deal

With the Pirates still in contention in the National League Central Division in late June, talk is turning to their trading for a power presence to add some pop to the middle of the batting order.

Obviously, Jose Bautista — aka Joey Bats – could have filled that role had he gone from Baseball Vagabond to the Game’s Best Slugger with the Bucs instead of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Bautista is following a 54-home run, 124-RBI breakthrough 2010 with another season of unprecedented power numbers, at least for him. By going 1-for-3 with three RBI, including a fourth-inning home run off Kevin Correia, Bautista is tied for the major-league lead with 24 homers to go with 52 RBI this season. He never hit more than 16 homers or 63 RBI in his three seasons with the Pirates, from 2006-08, before being dealt for Robinzon Diaz.

Which brings me to the worst trades in Pirates history.

At least, in my lifetime.

My colleague, Bob Cohn, tells me that you evaluate a trade the same way you do talent: You know it when you see it. In that case, Bautista-for-Diaz will go down as one of the most lopsided deals in club history.

While Bautista showed some flashes of power with the Pirates, they never could have predicted this. (Nor could they have afforded him the next four seasons at $14 million per, although his five-year deal with Toronto is looking like a bargain).  Here’s a look at Bautista’s numbers with the Bucs:

Year    Games HR      RBI     BA      OBP    SLG    OPS

2006    117      16        51        .235     .335     .420     .755

2007    142      15        63        .254     .339     .414     .753

2008    107      12        44        .238     .313     .405     .718

Perhaps the Pirates gave up on Bautista too soon, but the Blue Jays deserve credit for tweaking his plate approach and cultivating his power in 2009, when he batted .235/.349/.408/.757 with 13 homers and 40 RBI in 113 games. That’s why I’ll leave Bautista off my top five worst trades:

5. Chris Young and Jon Searles to Montreal for Matt Herges (2002): What makes this trade so bad is not that the Pirates had invested a million-dollar signing bonus on the 6-foot-10 right-hander, a 2000 third-round pick out of Princeton, or that he has a 49-34 record and 3.74 ERA over eight seasons but rather that they cut Herges in spring training.

4. Willie Randolph, Dock Ellis and Ken Brett to New York Yankees for Doc Medich (1976): A one-sided deal that ranks among the worst in baseball history, according to Traded author Doug Decatur, who ranks such things. I’m more forgiving, even though Randolph was a six-time All-Star, because Medich was involved in a nine-player trade with the Oakland A’s that brought second baseman Phil Garner to the Pirates, who won the 1979 World Series. Garner was twice an All-Star with the Bucs, in 1980 and ’81.

 (An aside: Garner also had one of the best nicknames on a team full of them, as those Pirates had Willie “Pops” Stargell at first, Scrap Iron at second, Bill “Mad Dog” Matlock at third and Dave “Cobra” Parker in right).

3. Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal to San Francisco for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong (2001): In an ominous sign for Dave Littlefield, this was his first trade, the Pirates dealt their 28-year-old ace before he hit free agency. Schmidt only went 78-37 with a 3.36 ERA with the Giants and twice was a top-five finalist for the Cy Young Award. Neither Rios nor Vogelsong made much of an impact here.

2. Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback (2003): This was a straight salary dump for the cash-strapped club, which was in violation of MLB’s debt-ratio rule. But to give away not only Lofton, one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, but also the franchise player Ramirez, who had five consecutive seasons of 25 homers or more, was a crime that became even more cruel once we got a look at Hernandez and Hill. The Pirates have been searching for a long-term replacement at third ever since.

1. Willie Greene, Scott Ruskin and a player to be named later to Montreal for Zane Smith (1990): This is where you can feel free to disagree — and I expect many of you will — because Smith delivered. He was 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 10 starts, including three complete games and two shutouts, to help the Pirates win a tight NL East division race. That earned Smith a four-year contract with the Pirates, and he went 47-41 with a 3.35 ERA in that span, including 30-20 between ’90 and ’92, when the Pirates won three consecutive division titles.

But what transpired between Aug. 8 and Aug. 16 of 1990 is what sours me on this deal. That the Pirates included the top prospect in their farm system only conspired to set them on an 18-year streak of losing seasons. That’s because the “player to be named later” was outfielder Moises Alou, a former first-round pick (No. 2 overall in 1986).

Giving up Greene, another a former first-rounder (18th in 1989), was worth it even though the third baseman/right fielder played nine seasons in the majors. He had a career .234 batting average, hit 86 home runs with 307 RBI. And Ruskin, who was 2-2 with a 3.02 ERA with two saves with the Pirates in ’90, was 11-9 with a 3.95 ERA in four major-league seasons.

But Alou became a six-time All-Star in 16 seasons, hit 332 homers and had career numbers of .303/.369/.516/.885. He could have been the star player the Pirates so desperately needed to replace Bobby Bonilla in right field and in the cleanup spot, the All-Star to fill the void when Barry Bonds left.

Instead, we watched a slow, steady decline.

What makes the Smith-for-Alou deal so bad in my eyes is that the Pirates mortgaged their future for a chance to win a World Series. While Smith helped them win three consecutive division titles, the Pirates never won the pennant, let alone played for the world championship in those years. The Pirates could have included any other player in their system and the deal would have been a smashing success — Bleacher Report still ranks it as one of the top 10 waiver-wire deals — but adding Alou was a major mistake.

That should serve as a warning to Pirates GM Neal Huntington when looking to make a deal so this club can contend for a championship. It’s one thing to add a valuable piece to your club, but be careful that you don’t give up a more valuable one in the process.

June 22, 2011
by trib


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More on Moskos and Wieters

Danny Moskos couldn’t help but laugh by the time I approached him in the Pirates’ clubhouse Monday afternoon, knowing that I was about to ask the lefty reliever another round of questions he had already endured.

With catcher Matt Wieters and the Baltimore Orioles in town for a three-game series, Moskos knew that it was inevitable their spots in the 2007 Major League Baseball draft would be a column topic.

That the Pirates picked Moskos fourth overall in favor of Wieters, who went fifth to the Orioles, drew plenty of criticism. Not just because Wieters was pegged the best prospect by Baseball America, but that the same publication ranked Moskos the fifth-best pitcher and eighth-best prospect.

That it came only six years after the Bucs took Bryan Bullington first overall only made matters worse. Where Bullington was immediately projected by Pirates GM Dave Littlefield as a No. 3 starter – instead of the ace that his draft position demanded – Moskos said he wanted to be a starter shortly after Littlefield and scouting director Ed Creech talked of him as a reliever.

“It’s something that it seems like Pirate fans aren’t going to forget,” Moskos said. “At the same time, you can’t get consumed by it because it is out of your control. But it is interesting that we’re playing each other in interleague play.”

Moskos and Wieters were rivals of sorts before the draft, as Clemson and Georgia Tech played against each other with some frequency in the Atlantic Coast Conference with Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively. Where Wieters said he holds no grudge against the Pirates – three other teams also passed on him – he was complimentary toward Moskos.

“We played against each other at least three times a year, a couple years more often than that,” Wieters said. “He was an outstanding pitcher in college, and I thought he got of unfair criticism because he has outstanding stuff. He’s going to be a big-league pitcher for a long time.

“That wasn’t fair to the guy. He’s a left-handed pitcher with a good arm, and those kinds of guys are valuable at the big-league level. When he was in the bullpen at Clemson, he was as good as any reliever in the whole country.”

Moskos has struggled recently against left-handed hitters, which hasn’t helped his cause in the Bucs’ bullpen. On Sunday, manager Clint Hurdle opted for Tony Watson instead of Moskos against the Cleveland Indians. On Monday, Hurdle used Moskos and he got Wieters to fly out to end the sixth.

At least Moskos is playing in the big leagues, and won’t be remembered as a bust in the same sense as Bullington, who was 0-3, with a 5.89 ERA in six games for the Pirates and 1-9 with a 5.62 ERA over five seasons.

“I think so,” Moskos said. “It improves my side of the argument, I guess.”

* The 25-year-old Wieters has already drawn criticism for failing to live up to the hype with his bat. Then again, he was being compared to Joe Mauer, who might be a once-in-a-generation catcher.

In the offseason, Baseball Prospectus called Wieters one of the “most disappointing prospects of all time,” adding that “his glove and the dream of what might have been will keep him around for years, but stardom now seems spectacularly unlikely.”

Wieters isn’t worried about living up to the lofty billing.

“It’s something you can’t worry about, and I don’t worry about expectations that come from different books or newspapers,” Wieters said. “Once the first pitch is thrown, it’s just about playing the game. And this game is hard enough to worry about things that go on off the field that you can’t control. The big thing for me is, being up here, being part of this team and helping this team win.”

Wieters batted .288 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 96 games as a rookie in 2009 but slipped to .249 with 11 homers and 55 RBI in 130 games last season. His career .265/.393/.718 in batting/slugging/OPS is disappointing, however, for someone projected as a switch hitter with power.

“I’ve always thought that, as a catcher, defense is the No. 1 priority,” Wieters said. “Of course, you want to be a guy who’s driving in runs, as well as stop them, but if you can get the pitching staff going as well as they can get going, then that’s going to be more valuable than any runs you can drive in.”

* One of the ironies not lost on John Russell is that he finally gets to work with Wieters, who could have solved some of the Pirates’ catching conundrums when Russell was their manager the past three seasons.

“JR has been huge in helping me,” Wieters said. “It’s always nice to have a catcher who’s caught in the big leagues and already can see things that you’re seeing behind the plate.”

Orioles coaches and teammates alike marvel at his mastery in calling games and protecting the plate as a third-year pro, which is where Wieters has made his mark.

“Not only does he know hitters, but he knows all the pitchers,” said Orioles closer Kevin Gregg, who spent last season with Toronto. “He knows what they’re successful with, where they want to go so the game is seamless.

“I’m not surprised at all. You could tell right away, since spring training, that this guy is something special. This is a guy that gets it, who understands and is blessed with great talent. He’s an up-and-coming superstar.”

June 21, 2011
by trib


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The Graduate

When I wandered up to Chris Jacobson last week at Pitt, I was hoping the fifth-year senior offensive lineman would share a scoop on a Panthers player who was having a strong off-season and could surprise us this fall.

“Give me a story,” I asked him.

After raving about several teammates, Jacobson let slip that he was one final exam away from earning his 120 credits necessary for his degree in administration of justice. He was proud of this accomplishment – and with good reason, considering how far he’d come in four years.

It didn’t take long for Jacobson to realize what had happened.

“Looks like I became your story,” he said with a smile.

He was right – and a good one at that.

* Like most Division I-A football players, Jacobson aspires to play in the NFL and knows that his switch to center this spring might improve his chances. If he can learn to long snap, they are even greater.

Most of all, the move shows that the new coaching staff comprehends the importance of a position that, under Dave Wannstedt, had a pair of walk-ons earn starting spots over scholarship players.

“This is a great change, but it was for the betterment of the team,” Jacobson said. “I’m excited about it. We’ll see what happens.”

* Jacobson is thrilled to have earned his degree, in case the NFL doesn’t work out. He hopes to have a post-playing career in either the FBI or U.S. Secret Service, or some other type of law enforcement. If those options fall through, he has a backup plan in mind.

“I’m going to be a bounty hunter,” Jacobson said, with a laugh. “That would be fun, with the vest.”

* I covered Jacobson in high school, where he was a U.S. Army All-American at Keystone Oaks, and understood why he was so “stoked” about graduating. He really had difficulty qualifying for freshman eligibility, and impressed Myles Caragein, a teammate at KO and Pitt, with his work ethic.

“I’m proud for him, seeing what he did, after the struggle he had to get into college and progressing and now he’s going to be a college graduate. It’s something else to see,” Caragein said. “The SATs got him a little bit, and he had to do good his senior year to get his GPA up. He spent extra time meeting with teachers, trying to do everything he could to get his GPA up.

“It just shows how hard he’s worked, the improvement he’s made and the will that he has to get better. It’s tremendous.”

* Caragein also is graduating this summer, with a math degree, and he and Jacobson have emerged as senior leaders in not only the classroom but the weight room and conditioning drills this summer.

“It’s definitely going to mean a lot to us, to get our degree together,” Caragein said.

With Jacobson at center and Caragein at nose tackle, they go head-to-head on almost every play every day in practice.

“Almost every play, it’s me against him,” Caragein said. “It’s tough. We battle every day. He’s quick off the ball. He gets off that snap quick and has his hands into you and has a good leg drive.”

Jacobson learned long ago how powerful Caragein is, as he tried to help the all-state heavyweight wrestler prepare for the PIAA championships when they were seniors. Although Jacobson had never wrestled before, he tried to use his muscle to give Caragein a good workout.

In a matter of seconds, Jacobson was on his back.

“I think he lasted two or three days,” Caragein said. “He came in more as a practice partner for me. I think he was doing it to help me out but also to help his conditioning. I was really amazed and impressed that he would do that for me. It shows the friendship we have for each other. It shows that he has great character and is willing to help somebody else succeed.”

* Keystone Oaks coach Nick Kamberis recalled how he put a 5-foot-10, 180-pound Jacobson at fullback, which lasted all of one varsity practice. A teary-eyed Jacobson requested a move back to the offensive line, and opened eyes almost immediately.

“Chris was engaged with a down lineman, came off at the last second and ‘de-cleated’ this senior linebacker who was blitzing,” Kamberis said. “It was an amazing play, a great football play.”

Kamberis saved an essay Jacobson wrote as a ninth-grader, when the 5-10, 180-pounder predicted that he would play for the Pitt Panthers one day. Jacobson returned to KO for its Future Stars camp last summer, and Kamberis read the essay to the campers for inspiration and then had Jacobson address the kids about setting goals.

“When you set your goals and stick to them,” Kamberis said, “nothing can stop you.”

June 16, 2011
by trib


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The hiatus is over

Now that Pitt and Penn State have agreed to renew their rivalry, if ever so briefly, it seems a perfect time to end my hiatus from blogging.

Either that, or the prolific Dejan Kovacevic has shamed me into it.

Actually, I have long been trying to figure out how to reinvent Sitting Ringside since leaving the Pitt football beat to become a columnist/enterprise reporter. So I welcome any reader comments on what you would like to see in commentary or links. Feel free to drop me a line with your suggestions by e-mail at kgorman@tribweb.com, by phone at 412-320-7812 or on Twitter @KGorman_Trib. 

I shared my view of Tuesday’s announcement of a two-game series in 2016-17 with a column, The Rivalry: What took so long? It prompted plenty of responses, some  ranging from why Penn Staters believe Pitt isn’t worthy of an annual game to Panthers fans blaming Joe Paterno for ruining the rivalry because of an old grudge.

Here’s something to consider: Over the past decade, the Pitt and Penn State football programs aren’t as far apart as you might think. Yes, PSU plays in a superior conference (Big Ten) than Pitt (Big East) but both are BCS-affiliated. In the past 10 years, Penn State is 79-45 and Pitt is 75-49. PSU has had three sub-.500 seasons (2001, ’03 and ’04) to Pitt’s two (’05, ’07) but the Nittany Lions also have played in more BCS bowls (two, Rose and Orange) than the Panthers (one, Fiesta). And it’s been relatively close the past three years (PSU 29-10, Pitt 27-12) and equal the past two (18-8).

Last year, Pitt finished 8-5, PSU 7-6. 

As a Pittsburgh native and Penn State alum, I’m all for renewing the Pitt-Penn State rivalry — even if the 15-season hiatus between their last meeting, in 2000, and their next, in September 2016, helped the Backyard Brawl become a better rivalry.

Here’s a Q&A I had with Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson:

Do you think the hiatus in the rivalry had anything to do with forcing Penn State fans to buy a ticket package instead of selling single-game tickets?

I really think, at that point, that game was set up in a four-game series but then it was already scheduled out beyond that. There really wasn’t an opportunity at that point to schedule anything in the realistic future.

 
Is there bad blood between the schools?
Not certainly as far as Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and I have ever been concerned.
 
Do you want Pitt to play Penn State on an annual basis?
What I would say is, if we’d look at the future, we’re hopeful maybe we can get something going here but at the time you focus on this particular couple of games. We both agreed that we’re going to keep talking and see what the opportunities might be. Certainly, we’d like to play them. We’re looking forward to this game. I think it’s a significant game in the state. It’s one of those historic, great games. There’s only a handful of games like that are really great and historic. We’ve always been in favor of playing it as often as we can play it.
 
Do you think Pitt’s season should always begin with Penn State and end with West Virginia, with Notre Dame somewhere in the middle:
I don’t know about timing or that kind of thing when you play, necessarily. We’d have to factor that into the whole conference thing. Generally, people like the conference to be the culmination of the season, so I guess I’d have to think about that.
 
How would you feel about playing Penn State in the first game every year, or at least early?
I don’t know that. We play Notre Dame in the middle of the year, and that works out fine. Anytime it’s played is a good game.
 
Have you opened up a can of worms by agreeing to play? People are excited and now want this rivalry to be renewed and played on an annual basis.
Of course they are but they wanted it before, too. It doesn’t change anything, probably.
 
Has the Backyard Brawl surpassed Pitt-Penn State in terms of rivalries?
I think they’re both great games; both have had their moments. When you’re in a conference together, it elevates things. We’re so close in proximity. We’ve had this great, traditional rivalry with Notre Dame, with West Virginia and now this resumption of games with Penn State. I think that’s pretty special on the schedule when you’re looking at what other people have, in terms of the kinds of rivalries they have on the games. And rivalries are a big part of college football.
 
Do you feel like the Pitt-Penn State rivalry has been sabotaged at all because a generation has grown up without watching them play?
I don’t know if I’d say that. I’m just glad we got a chance to get it going.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

October 13, 2010
by trib


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A new plaque for Pete Hill

When Ron Hill learned that his great uncle was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame under the wrong given name, the Penn Hills man made it his personal mission to correct the plaque of Pete Hill.

After much public pressure, the Hall of Fame decided to unveil Pete Hill’s new plaque in a ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., yesterday, which was Pete Hill’s birthday.

“I kept staring at it,” said Ron Hill, whom I’ve known for more than a decade. “To me, it was like, ‘The mission is done. The history is complete. People know his real name now.’ He has more background than any other Negro League ballplayer, even more than Josh Gibson.”

Nearly two dozen Hill family members attended the ceremony where they were treated to an unveiling of the new plaque, a panel discussion involving baseball historians and a reception.

“They gave us the VIP treatment,” Hill said. “They went beyond. They really went out of their way. We met everybody who had something to do with the Hall of Fame. The hospitality was great. You couldn’t ask for a better day. They made it a personal day. If I would’ve (gone) in 2006, I would’ve just been another person because they had 17 people inducted. This was a family day.”

The event left Hill feeling like a celebrity for a day, as his wardrobe attracted attention from visitors to the Cooperstown museum. Hill wore a jacket with every Negro League team’s logo on it and a hat to match.

“People stopped me on the street and asked to take pictures with me,” Hill said. “It made my day. I’m going to always remember this day, and pass it along to my family.”

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