Dec 25, 2023

Andrew McCutchen feels at home with Pirates at PNC Park

Justice delos Santos

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen didn't lend an iota of thought as to how this would unfold.

To McCutchen, hypothesizing what this day, his first game in a Pirates uniform at PNC Park in more than half-a-decade, might be like would only dampen the experience. Why think about it? Instead, McCutchen decided to surrender himself to the moment. No assumptions. No expectations. No theorizing.

"You can anticipate all you want, but you don't know until you’re there and experiencing it," McCutchen said Friday morning. "My whole thing is, ‘What's the point in even thinking about it if that's the case?’ Honestly, I don't get too high about the whole situation until I’m in the moment."

When McCutchen finally entered that moment, he was content to soak everything in: The crowd clad in black. A.J. Burnett throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Russell Martin. The first ovation. The M-V-P chants. The second ovation. The first hit. The second hit. The 13-9 win over the White Sox. It was a moment nearly six years in the making. It was a moment he, the fans and the city won't forget anytime soon.

"I love these fans," McCutchen said postgame. "I love these fans, man."

The fans loved him right back. Not that they ever stopped. Whenever McCutchen returned to PNC Park as a visitor, he continued to receive a cacophony of applause. He even received cheers when he homered as a Brewer last season. On this afternoon, back in his proper colors, the ballpark rocked and roared as if it was Buctober.

Thank you Pittsburgh. This meant the 🌎 to me❤️. You ARE the difference!

"I remember coming back here for the first time after I got traded [to San Francisco] in 2018," McCutchen said. "I remember getting that same ovation, but it was different. I was emotional then, too, but it was a different type of emotion. That one definitely affected the at-bat in a positive and negative way. But this one, it was positive. It felt good.

"It was like it was supposed to happen."

McCutchen wore a smile during the pregame pomp and circumstance. When the time arrived for his first plate appearance, however, the emotional wave crescendoed.

The 36-year-old, who first burst onto the scene in Pittsburgh as a 22-year-old, was in no rush to step into the batter's box. Home-plate umpire Ryan Wills didn't dare ding McCutchen for a pitch timer violation, an understanding from all parties that McCutchen should have his moment. McCutchen paced back and forth for several beats, saluting the crowd and taking some practice swings. He eventually stopped on the fringe of the grass and stared down at the dirt. He kept staring. He tried not to cry; those efforts proved futile. When McCutchen collected himself, he wasted no time giving the people what they wanted and slapped a first-pitch single to right field, his first as a Pirate in 2,014 days.

"I was trying to keep my feelings in check up there, but at the same time, I didn't want to suppress them," McCutchen said.

"To watch Cutch go out there, man, I became a fan in that moment," said Connor Joe, who collected four of Pittsburgh's 19 hits.

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To manager Derek Shelton, the defining moment of McCutchen's afternoon came not when he collected two singles in his first two plate appearances, but with an unspectacular groundout in his third, one where he hustled down the line as if he was a spry rookie.

"I think that's why you get an ovation like that," Shelton said.

The love was all the sweeter given all the years that McCutchen didn't don the black and gold.

For McCutchen, some of those 2,014 days were more difficult than others. He has described the difficulty of living in Pittsburgh during offseasons while playing for other teams, sharing that he couldn't even look at PNC Park because it wasn't his home. Now, he can stop and stare all he likes. He can also walk right past the visiting clubhouse, too.

Yinz understood the assignment.#BlackoutPNC ✔

"Man, I tell you," McCutchen said, "it was something walking and going past the visiting clubhouse and I was like, ‘Thank God.’"

McCutchen won't just enjoy walking right past the visiting clubhouse; he’ll enjoy being in his own house and spending more time around his family. His three kids -- Steel, Armani and Ave Maria -- weren't born until after McCutchen's first run in Pittsburgh.

He knows his children will care more about the Pirate Parrot and the racing Pierogies, but in time, he's excited to share why this team, this ballpark, this city will forever be home.

"It's a great situation to be in because they see all the pictures, they see all the awards, and my [oldest] son [Steel] is asking questions like, 'What's that silver bat? What's that gold glove there?'" McCutchen said. "I'm able to explain it to him. He's like, ‘Why do you have long hair?' It's cool because I'm able to tell them stories about that time, which was that time before they were here.

"Now, they're going to be able to experience it with me. We're going to be able to see reasons why Daddy loves the Pirates. They're going to get it, they're going to understand it. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's great. There's no better feeling."