Pirates manager Derek Shelton savoring return of fans for home opener at PNC Park

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Kevin Gorman, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
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Apr. 8—On the day Derek Shelton was introduced as Pittsburgh Pirates manager, a photo captured the moment he took his family through the dugout and onto the field at PNC Park for the first time.

Shelton has the framed photo hanging in his office, and it's the closest his family has come to being inside the ballpark for a baseball game. Stadiums were closed to spectators last season because of covid-19, and Shelton lamented that his first season as an MLB manager was played in empty ballparks and with automated crowd noise.

That changes Thursday, when fans are allowed to return to PNC Park for the home opener against the Chicago Cubs, and Shelton couldn't be more excited to manage his first game in front of Pirates fans.

For the home opener, PNC Park gates open at noon, and fans are asked to be seated by 1 p.m. The Pirates will observe a moment of silence for alumni who have died since the end of the 2019 season. There will be renditions of God Bless America, by Vanessa Norris, Tech Sergeant from the 911th Airlift Wing of the U.S. Air Force, and the national anthem, by 30-year season-ticket holder Tim Pollack on the saxophone. The ceremonial first pitch, thrown by Highmark Health CEO David Holmberg and AGH chief medical officer Dr. Imran Qadeer, will honor healthcare professionals for their work through the pandemic.

"I think it really hit me last night when I got here and my wife and two of my kids are here and my parents are here and then you know, this morning I actually walked to the ballpark," Shelton said Thursday morning. "So. walking over the Clemente Bridge, coming in, the lights were on when I came in early at 7 o'clock. It was goosebumps, man. It's cool. It's something I think I sat at this podium and talked about you know two years ago and waited a little bit longer than I expected and excited to be here in front of our fans and to get going."

For the home opener, PNC Park gates open at noon, and fans are asked to be seated by 1 p.m. The Pirates will observe a moment of silence for alumni who have died since the end of the 2019 season. There will be renditions of God Bless America, by Vanessa Norris, Tech Sergeant from the 911th Airlift Wing of the U.S. Air Force, and the national anthem, by 30-year season-ticket holder Tim Pollack on the saxophone. The ceremonial first pitch, thrown by Highmark Health CEO David Holmberg and AGH chief medical officer Dr. Imran Qadeer, will honor healthcare professionals for their work through the pandemic.

Shelton said the scene is something he will "100%" savor.

"I've talked about it a ton: Being able to stand on the line, fans in the ballpark, the Clemente Bridge there. Yeah, it's going to be a really cool moment," Shelton said Wednesday, after the Pirates' 11-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. "To have my family there, which I wish they would have been there last year, I think it's going to be a very special moment for myself. I know it's going to be a very special moment for some other guys."

Shelton mentioned two Pirates with hometown connections in bench coach Don Kelly, a Mt. Lebanon and Point Park alum, and relief pitcher David Bednar of Mars, who was acquired in the Joe Musgrove trade from the San Diego Padres in January.

"Donnie's from there and didn't get the chance to do it last year," Shelton said. "Bednar's from here and didn't get the chance (this being) his first year here. So yeah, I think it's going to be special for a lot of people."

The return to PNC Park is welcome for the Pirates (1-5), especially after they have lost their past five games. That includes back-to-back blowout losses to the Reds to end the six-game road trip.

"I think our group is excited to be at home in front of our own fans," Shelton said. "You miss it for a year, and I think there's been anticipation building up to it. We're ready to get home. We're definitely ready to get out of Cincinnati. So we're ready to get home and play in front of our fans."

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at kgorman@triblive.com or via Twitter .