PITTSBURGH - For the large number of Pirates fans on hand, life was good at the annual PirateFest, which concluded at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Sunday afternoon.
The addictive smell of ballpark food wafted through parts of the large room. Many of their favorite players were on hand. Their team hadn't lost a game in months. And Opening Day was only weeks away.
The Staub family from Clarion was typical of those in attendance - very enthusiastic, highly knowledgeable and fairly optimistic about the season ahead.
"I'd like to see .500 baseball. I'll settle for 81 wins," Ken said of his expectations for the 2010 season. Asked whether he expected the Pirates to achieve the goal, the 44-year-old Clarion University professor responded, "Yeah, if they don't trade veteran players like they did last season. But I like many of their younger players. That's the best way to build the team."
"I agree -- I'd like to see .500 baseball," said his wife Susan, an assistant director at the same university who still had vivid memories of the 1979 World Series, the last one for the team. "I'd just like to see them be competitive. It has been awhile. I like the plan to build from within, so we have to give them a chance, but it wouldn't hurt to get some veteran guys."
Their eldest son Will wasn't as convinced about a .500 record as his parents, but one would never have known it by the Pirates hat on his head, the Pirates shirt on his back and the Pirates duffle bag filled with goodies in his right hand.
"I got a little bit of doubt because they trade every good player they have," said Will, 12, a sixth-grader. "But they have some pretty good prospects."
Youngstown resident David Janci, 32, just hopes the fans get out and see winning baseball at PNC Park this season.
"In my heart, I always want them to win," Janci said. "Hopefully, they'll do well and fill the ballpark a little bit more."
"They'll do well this year," said a confident John Riley, 15, a Trafford High School sophomore who attended approximately 20 games with his father last season. "I like what they did in the off-season. Bobby Crosby and Akinori Iwamura were good pick-ups. Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen . . . this will be a better season."
After a one-year absence, Merle Bielack was bitten by the Buccos bug again.
"I'm back," Bielick announced.
"Last year I kind of lost interest in the team, but this year I'm optimistic," said Bielack, 63, a retired Greensburg resident and Pirates lifer. "My family and myself started to listen to the front office and its plan. We're optimistic that it will build a championship team and make it worth the trip to the ballpark again. I believe we got the right players back in trades and things like that."
Ross Township resident Ted Smith considered the team to be "a couple seasons away" from a serious run at the Central Division title.
"I'm mildly optimistic and frustrated at the same time," said Smith, 52, an operations manager for a storage company. "Every time you get to know the team, the players are traded. I thought some of players were young enough to build around."
As for the season ahead, Smith said, "It comes down to the pitchers. If they're solid, the team will have a chance (to be competitive). A lot of guys have to have good seasons together."
"I'm somewhere in the middle," said Conway resident Gene DeLeonardis, 69, a retired steelworker who planned to attend a few home games with his son once again. "It was a bummer to watch them last year. Hopefully, the younger players will work out for them this season. We'll see."