"It's the best chemistry I've seen here," Martin adds, "and I was here in '92 with a playoff team. I had veterans tell me then, 'You better hit, man. You're taking money out of my pocket.' It was so bad I didn't want to be in the big leagues anymore. I remember thinking, Get me out of here. Bonds would get on me constantly. He'd get on me for stretching the wrong way. Now I get on [rookie outfielder] Jose Guillen all the time, but I do it in a way to make him comfortable. Barry would get on me to make me feel like a piece of junk."
These Pirates have a more stripped-down attitude to match their decor. That includes Leyland's successor and friend, Gene Lamont, who runs the team with a velvety style from a fittingly bare-walled manager's office. His patience dovetails well with the team's youthfulness.
Home games have a cozy, minor league feel, and not just because of the team's roster full of unknowns and its sparse season-ticket base (7,000). The average attendance this season, 16,373, was off by 706 from last year's final figure, but ticket sales for future games are up. The Pirates scheduled 49 promotions over their 81 home dates. Every night the Parrot mascot shoots hot dogs out of an air gun into the crowd, as if the high-fat, high-sodium meat products weren't dangerous enough before being turned into projectiles. The Pirates drew 25,664 for a 9-2 win over Philadelphia last Saturday night, when they gave away alternate caps that feature red brims. (The official color of the team's accounting books also happens to be new to the uniform this year.)
"We took 38,000 orders for the regular black hats last year, and this year we've taken over 100,000 orders for the new caps," says Steve Greenberg, vice president of marketing and public relations. "In the past you could walk the streets of the city for a week before you saw a Pirates cap. Now you can't walk three feet without seeing one. The story of this team is the work ethic."
The Pirates may be an easy underdog to root for—after all, they do have a Rocky and an Adrian (Brown, a rookie outfielder)—but are they a contender? "Let's wait until August before we even think about that," Schmidt says.
If nothing else, these coupon-clipping, lunch-box-toting major leaguers may turn on! lo be persuasive lobbyists. This week the Pennsylvania legislature will consider placing a referendum on the November ballot that could result in a 10-county sales-tax increase to fund major development projects in the Pittsburgh area, including a new home for the Pirates, which team officials say is vital to keep the team in town. The ballpark would include 38,000 seats, a two-tiered retro-style design and, in the most audible announcement of the franchise's upward mobility, the extravagance of music in the home team's clubhouse.
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