Ticket sales on upswing

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moneyThe first across-the-board price hike in a decade so far has not slowed Pirates ticket sales. The team already has sold a higher equivalent of full-season plans than it did a year ago. The Pirates have been hawking season-ticket plans since last fall; single-game tickets went on sale about six weeks ago at PirateFest. After last season, the average price of a ticket increased from $15.30 to $16.11. Season tickets for lower infield box seats went up by $4 per game. The cost of a seat behind the dugouts went up $10 to $45.

“Our fans’ renewed excitement for Pirates baseball has resulted in solid sales so far this winter,” President Frank Coonelly said via email. “Renewals are pacing well but new sales are driving the growth as they are already well ahead of where we ended 2011. The full-season value plans have been particularly popular and we are nearly sold out of value plans (limited to 500 in each price category) in three of the value-plan price categories. Individual sales and group sales are also trending well, despite the fact that the is no Red Sox series (at PNC Park) this year. The staff has much work left to do in order to meet our goals for 2012, but it is off to a solid start.”

We’ll have to take his word for it. As usual, Coonelly provided no specific data to support his statement, as the Pirates do not release their ticket information. Chief marketing officer Lou DePaoli deferred questions about ticket sales to Coonelly.

»»» Here’s an interesting crystal ball look at the Pirates’ 2013 payroll by Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects. BTW, if you have more than a passing interest in the ballclub’s minor leaguers, you might want to pick up Tim’s 2012 Prospect Guide.

»»» The Pirates have not yet officially announced it, but they’ve signed pitcher Daniel Cabrerra to a minor league deal with a spring training invite. The 30-year-old righty had a couple of OK seasons with the Orioles, but hasn’t started a game in the majors since 2009.

»»» And, in case you missed it, another ex-Pirate has signed with a NL Central team. Lefty Zach Duke got a minor league deal and spring training invitation from the Astros.

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Cheers!

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As part of a three-year extension of their corporate partnership, Anheuser-Busch and the Pirates this season will open the “Budweiser Bowtie Bar” at PNC Park. It will be the first full-service bar on the main concourse level of the ballpark.

The U-shaped lounge, located near Section 101, will have an open floor plan overlooking right field. It will be available for rent to groups of 50 or more fans, and the $2,250 rental fee will include a $1,000 food credit. Construction is expected to cost between $500,000 and $1 million, and is slated to be completed by Opening Day. Budweiser has been a corporate sponsor of the Pirates since PNC Park opened in 2001.

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Marte among top OF prospects

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Starling Marte ranks seventh on MLB.com’s list of the top 10 outfielder prospects. Bryce Harper of the Nats is No. 1. After winning the Double-A Eastern League batting title last summer at Altoona, Marte will begin this season at Triple-A Indy. Assistant GM Kyle Stark said there’s one major hurdle left for Marte: “The big question for him, in terms of what the ultimate upside is, will be how does he control the strike zone?” Stark said. “We continue to challenge him and saw some strides being made, especially in the last month of the season. I think he has the ability to do it; it’s just a matter of commitment on every pitch, every night.”

»»» Steve Morse, the Pirates’ account manager for premium seating, will square off against Reds scoreboard operator Rich Linville at 9 p.m. Jan. 31 in a first-round clash on “Baseball IQ” on MLB Network. The show is a bracket-style tournament of baseball trivia knowledge with the winnings going to charity.

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Spikes plan to fete Paterno

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Spikes logoThe State College Spikes want to fete former Penn State coach Joe Paterno with an event sometime during the 2012 season. The Spikes, whose stadium is on the Penn State campus, are the Pirates short-season Class A affiliate. After Paterno’s death on Sunday, Spikes GM Jason Dambach released this statement: “The State College Spikes join the entire State College and Penn State community in expressing our deepest sadness regarding the passing of coach Joe Paterno. We have treasured our friendship with the Paterno family and wish them comfort and strength as they grieve the loss of their beloved husband, father and grandfather. The Spikes plan to reach out to the Paterno family at an appropriate time in the near future to plan a fitting tribute to Coach Paterno during our upcoming 2012 season.”

»»» Pirates pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout in 27 days. The Grapefruit League slate begins March 3 against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. If you’re heading south to spring training, you might want to take a day trip up to Orlando and see the exhibit “Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente” at the Orange County Regional History Center. The exhibit runs through March 18. Click this link for more info.

»»» Alex Dickerson ranked ninth on MLB.com’s list of the top 10 first basemen prospects. The ratings were compiled by my friend Jonathan Mayo, who knows his stuff. Dickerson, a lefty hitter, won the Big Ten triple crown at Indiana University and the Pirates like his potential to hit for a high average with a decent dose of power.

»»» The Pirates signed 27-year-old lefty Kris Johnson. He was the Red Sox’s first-round draft pick in 2006 and began last season at Triple-A Pawtucket. After he put up a 12.63 ERA in eight outings last year, Johnson was released by Boston and signed with the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association. He went 6-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 16 starts for the T-Bones.

»»» Three former Pirates will play for NL Central clubs this summer: Chris Snyder signed with the Astros, Jason Jaramillo is with the Cubs and Ryan Ludwick hooked up with the Reds.

»»» Remember these guys? Brad “Big Country” Eldred got a minor league deal from the Tigers. Eldred hit 12 homers in 190 at-bats for the Pirates in 2005, but hasn’t played in the majors since 2010 when he got in 11 games for the Rockies. … The Mariners rolled the dice and signed enigmatic lefty Oliver Perez to a minor league deal. Perez, 30, spent last year with the Nats’ Double-A affiliate. … Virgil Vasquez, a free agent who pitched in 14 games for the Pirates in 2009, is trying to revive his career this winter by playing in Australia. Vasquez was in spring training with the Rays in 2010 when he broke both his wrists in a scooter accident and hasn’t sniffed the majors since.

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Hurdle at home with Pirates

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqqb_C_AIEQ

BRADENTON, Fla. — I sat down with manager Clint Hurdle this morning at Pirate City to talk abouut what he saw this week in minicamp and what he expects to see this season from the ballclub. “I’m very pleased with the participation and the commitment level from everybody,” Hurdle said. “Those are things you’re always looking for, attitude and effort. … (Minicamp is about) just getting out on the field and let them run around. You make some mental notes, as they’re going through their programs, about things we might be able to give them as they (begin) their next level of preparation before they return (for spring training). We’re not trying to over-coach or get too creative right now.”

»»» As players took hacks in the indoor batting cages, Hurdle chatted with an observer and discovered she grew up in Australia and now lives in Washington, D.C. She asked Hurdle how he likes living in Florida. “Oh, I don’t live here,” Hurdle replied without hesitation. “My home is in Pittsburgh.” Again — it’s those kinds of little moments that show how Hurdle has bought into his job and seems ready for the long haul.

»»» Hurdle will fly back to Pittsburgh on Friday, then return to Bradenton in two weeks to begin final preparations for spring training. Many of the players indicated they also plan to be in camp several days before the official reporting dates for pitchers/catchers and position players.

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A few quick thoughts

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUconDnFSqM

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZmiSjEY5LI

BRADENTON, Fla. — Four fields at Pirate City are buzzing with activity this morning as day four of minicamp gets under way. A few quick impressions before I pack up my gear, drive up the highway to Tampa’s airport and return to Pittsburgh:

»»» I didn’t get a good look at Pedro Alvarez during PirateFest weekend because he was wearing a winter coat and sweater. But after watching him in the batting cage and on the field this morning, I can say he looks to be in great shape. He’s moving well at third base, seems agile and strong. The weight issues of last year won’t be a problem when spring training camp opens in a few weeks. Alvarez also seems very relaxed and confident, and was all smiles after barrelling up a lot of balls in the cage today. The video clips of Alvarez are from this morning.

»»» Kudos to Clint Barmes, a veteran who didn’t have to put in the time to attend this voluntary minicamp. But Barmes is eager to fit in with his new mates, and figured minicamp was a good time to get introductions out of the way so he can begin spring training at full speed.

»»» Jeff Karstens also is putting in extra work this week at Pirate City. This could be a big year for the right-hander, who last season dispelled notions that he wasn’t a good fit as anything but a long reliever/spot starter. With a firmer grip on a rotation spot, Karstens this winter is working on his endurance and core strength so he can go deeper into games this summer.

»»» Contract talks between the team and Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen remain quiet.

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Minicamp day 3

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Pitching coach Ray Searage talks with his troops before a round of drills this morning at Pirate City.
Pitching coach Ray Searage talks with his troops before a round of drills this morning at Pirate City.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates had wrapped up nearly all of their minicamp workouts by noon today and quickly scattered from Pirate City. The weather was wet and windy, so the four practice fields were practically empty all day. Position players spent time in the batting cages. Pitchers worked on flexibility and strength exercises, then did soft toss. Only about half of the position players were on campus today; the rest were on a “team-building” activity organized by Neil Walker. According to manager Clint Hurdle, it was Walker who urged many of his mates via calls and text messages to attend these voluntary practice sessions.

»»» Several notable prospects also are working out at Pirate City this week: Stetson Allie, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Tony Sanchez, Alex Dickerson, Luis Heredia, Quincy Latimore, Nathan Baker, Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Colton Cain and Victor Black.

»»» Dickerson, a third-round draft pick last June, is someone to keep an eye on over the next few years. Management is intrigued by the first baseman’s potential to hit for a high average with decent power. Dickerson won the Big Ten triple crown (.419 batting average, 24 homers, 79 RBI) and was conference MVP at Indiana in 2010, but his numbers dropped last season when the NCAA switched to safer muted metal bats. The equipment switch was tough, but Dickerson said playing in the Big Ten presented lots of other challenges. “It’s hard because of the weather,” he said. “That affects the overall talent level in the conference. A lot of guys go play somewhere else where the weather is better. My sophomore year (2010), the weather was great and we got a full season in. But when I was a freshman and junior, it was terrible.”

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Morton’s rehab is on track

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Right-hander Charlie Morton, on the mend from hip surgery, expects to be ready for Opening Day. Morton had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He began doing soft and long toss in December and this week is going through light workouts at the team’s minicamp. “Everything I do is done on the side of caution,” Morton told me this morning at Pirate City. “But I think I can get back on time.” Morton will return to Pirate City on Feb. 1, about three weeks before pitchers and catchers report for the official start of spring training. It’s still too early to say what type of workout routine he will be able to handle once camp begins.

»»» Due to changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, this year’s voluntary minicamp isn’t as all-inclusive as in previous years. The camp is open to any player who wants to come. But, the Pirates were allowed to officially invite up to 20 members of their 40-man roster and only those who have 0 to 3 years’ big-league service time. Among those here this week are Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Clint Barmes, Daniel Moskos, Chris Resop, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Daniel McCutchen, James McDonald, Michael McKenry, Alex Presley, Brad Lincoln and Chase d’Arnaud. In addition to workouts on the fields and hitting cages, the players assemble for a group golf outing and last night went to a Tampa Bay Lightning game.

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Maholm signs; Padilla off radar?

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I got a text message late last night from free-agent lefty Paul Maholm, who confirmed that he’s about to sign with the Cubs: “I passed my physical today (Monday). They r announcing it (Tuesday).” Maholm was the best ground-ball pitcher still on the market, which could make him a good fit for Wrigley Field’s cozy dimensions. The Pirates’ first-round pick in 2003, Maholm is 6-2 with a 5.48 ERA and a 1.344 WHIP in 11 career starts at Wrigley.

Also last night, a well-placed Pirates source told me a report that the team is going to scout free-agent pitcher Vicente Padilla next week in Nicaragua is “not accurate.”

I’m flying today to Bradenton, Fla., and will report tonight and tomorrow from the Bucs’ unofficial minicamp at Pirate City. Check here and on my Twitter feed for updates.

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Congrats to Larkin

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Congrats to Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who today was elected to the Hall of Fame. He played in 189 games against the Pirates, facing them more often than any other team except the Astros. Larkin hit .284 with an .811 OPS against Pittsburgh. He played the final game of his 19-year career on Oct. 3, 2004, against Pirates (who won, 2-0). Larkin went 0 for 1 with a walk, grounding into a double play in his last at-bat before being replaced in the lineup by Anderson Machado.

This was the first year I was eligible for a Hall of Fame ballot. My votes went to Larkin, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Lee Smith. They also were the top four vote-getters this year. Morris fell short by 48 votes.  The three former Pirates on the ballot — Tony Womack, Jeromy Burnitz and Terry Mulholland — got a combined total of zero votes overall.

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