The Pittsburgh Pirates will begin a three-game series against the 19-19 San Francisco Giants tonight. A mid-May series against two solid baseball clubs normally wouldn’t move the needle too much but this series features the return of Andrew McCutchen.
From the moment Andrew McCutchen was traded to the San Francisco Giants, May 11th officially became a must-see game for Pirates fans. McCutchen was much more than simply an MVP-caliber player to the fans, he was THE face of the franchise. He represented the end of 20 years of losing and more importantly a return to the postseason. McCutchen was the charismatic superstar the Pirates lacked following the exit of Barry Bonds prior to the 1993 season.
It is nearly impossible to pretend this is just another game on the schedule. I expect that PNC Park will be a mixture of emotional and electric. The Pirates announced that there will be a tribute to McCutchen at some point during the first inning:
It’s hard not to compare this to how Penguins fans felt when Marc-Andre Fleury played his first game in Pittsburgh as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights. A returning fan-favorite that wasn’t just popular because of his talent. Both Fleury and McCutchen became stars because they were just so damn charming.
However, if I ignore how dynamic McCutchen was as a player during his Pirates’ career, I am doing him a disservice. The numbers speak for themselves. Nine years, 1346 games, .291/.379/.487/.866 with 203 home runs, 725 RBIs, and 835 runs scored. His run from 2012-2015 was one of the best in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Four straight top-5 MVP finishes, including winning the award in 2013. During that time he had an average OPS+ of 157 and was worth an average of 6.45WAR. He was so far above nearly everyone in baseball not named Mike Trout.
I expect that the moment the public address announcers says, “now batting for the Giants, the right fielder, number 22, Andrew McCutchen” you will hear a roar not heard in PNC Park since at least Opening Day. I hope that McCutchen steps out of the box and soaks the moment in, because no one deserves it more. I also expect that he will acknowledge the crowd at some point. He was a man that loved this city and its fan base. I have zero doubt, you will see at least a tip of the cap.
On a personal level, I am not sure how I will react to seeing Andrew McCutchen as a visiting player. I have been mentally preparing myself for it since he was traded. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if I get emotional. I have followed this team for many years and Andrew McCutchen will forever represent a special moment in time.
When I think of McCutchen’s time as a Pirate, I don’t think of the big hits, the great catches, or his infectious smile. I think of the player introductions for the 2013 NL Wildcard Game. Before his name was even announced, the entire stadium erupted in chants of “MVP MVP MVP.” I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment because it was real. You can’t fake that level of emotion because in that moment, the Pittsburgh Pirates truly were back and Andrew McCutchen was THE driving force.
So before the scheduled 7:05pm first pitch, I just want to say one last time, thank you, Andrew McCutchen for all your years of service and thank you for helping make baseball relevant in this city once again.