Frustrated fans voice displeasure
Friday, June 05, 2009

Nate McLouth had left PNC Park, but the fans' displeasure was everywhere. It was outside at the tailgates where one group of fans drove nearly 75 miles to protest. It was inside the ballpark in the three outfield signs that ridiculed the deal and called for the trade of general manager Neal Huntington. And it was on the face of nearly every Pirates fan, young and old, after another trade of another popular young outfielder.

"I've been a Pirates fan long enough to see it every year," Jeff Bennett, who walked up to the game with his son and purchased tickets, said yesterday about the seemingly annual trades of promising players. "Who's next?"

Other fans used words such as "bonehead," "awful" and "typical" to describe the trade of McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for three minor league prospects. The sentiment was clear: Most people were more than willing to express their displeasure.

Jeffrey C. Paige and his two friends drove from New Florence in Westmoreland County to make sure their anger was represented at the park. The trio wore shirts that said "Nate the Great" on the back in protest of the trade.

"I think it's terrible," Paige said while the group was tailgating. "They said he was the cornerstone for success. Last year, we had the most productive outfield in Major League Baseball, and with the trade of McLouth, that outfield is completely gone.

"They told us eight or nine years ago this team would compete in five years. I'm tired of waiting."

Dick Hay, who said he was a friend of minority owner Dennis Adams, also was tailgating outside the stadium before heading in. And like the crew from New Florence, he was unhappy.

"This is the last game I am going to, and I am burning all of my Pirates hats," he said. "Management has been doing this for 15 years. Every time we get a new guy, we trade him. ... I e-mailed Dennis Adams trying to have him sell his personal stake in the team."

Despite their displeasure, fans still went to the game, funding the franchise through ticket and concession sales. The crowd of 20,683 was the fifth-largest weekday afternoon crowd in PNC Park history, and more than 3,300 of those tickets were sold to fans who bought them from the box office yesterday, knowing that McLouth had been traded.

Part of the draw was the fact that Andrew McCutchen was making his much-anticipated major league debut in place of McLouth. Even though McCutchen is regarded as the center fielder of the future, fans think he will have big shoes to fill in the present. When the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran doubled to center and McCutchen played the ball off the wall, one fan in center field shouted, "Thirteen would have had that!"

Other fans expressed similar feelings.

"I want to see the team do well, but it is deflating when they make these trades," said Andy Masarik, a seventh-grade teacher who brought his Highlands Middle School students to the game. "They brought up McCutchen, but it will be tough to replace Nate."

Masarik brought a sign with him that summed up the attitude of the school group: "Taking your students to the game: $810. Trading McLouth the day before: Stunned!"

Masarik's sign was one of at least three in the outfield that bemoaned the loss of McLouth. Eddie Bardella, who was at the game with his father Ed and friend Boris Canó, proudly displayed a "Trade Huntington" sign during inning breaks.

Even Canó, a Mets fan, had reasons to be unhappy with the trade.

"I'm a Mets fan, and they just gave him to the Braves. Thanks," he deadpanned.

While the reaction was overwhelmingly negative, a handful of fans was happy with the trade and trusted the management's decision.

"It was too good to turn down," Adam Kunselman said of the deal. "Neal and [Pirates president Frank] Coonelly are paying for all the sins of the regime before. I'm not ready to crucify these guys yet."

Happy or unhappy, the spectators saw a Pirates victory. And even the staunchest opponents of the trade agree that winning trumps everything.

"Yeah, it helps out," the older Bardella said, with a smile.

First published on June 5, 2009 at 12:00 am