Apathy on Federal St: Growing disconnect between Pittsburgh Pirates and fans on display at Piratesfest

Piratesfest is meant as a bridge between the cold winter and Spring Training. However, things remained frosty between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the club’s fans at this year’s event

Pittsburgh Pirates brass had to know they would be in for a long day.

Piratesfest, the club’s annual fan-festival meant to give fans a taste of baseball during the cold winter and to drive season ticket sales, was sure to be a live wire of fan disappointment. To their credit, or perhaps to their folly, general manager Neal Huntington, president Frank Coonelly and manager Clint Hurdle trot themselves out for a fan Q&A session each and every year at the event.

By now, they can see the criticisms veiled as questions coming a mile away. It’s not quite Kangaroo Court, but it’s close. For an excruciating hour, three of the team’s pillars will listen to fans’ attempts to hold them accountable for the team’s milquetoast performance over the past two years, as if they had not been held accountable enough.

Coonnelly wrapped up his comments during the Q&A by thanking the fans for their passion. “It fuels us.” he added. For now, the Pittsburgh Pirates should be thankful that they are feeling such scorn. Passion comes in many forms, after all.

Whether or not that scorn turns into something far worse — abject apathy — will hinge on how the team plots its course for 2018. If the team’s fan event is any indication, the growing disconnect between team and fan leaves even less margin for error.

Social media muscles or focus group?

This was readily apparent on twitter during the event. As Pirates Breakdown live-tweeted the Q&A session, the replies seen at nearly every quote, from Huntington in particular, painted an ominous picture of fan discord.

As expected, the team’s future course with the face of their franchise – Pittsburgh Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen – drew a ton of ire.

Even the center-fielder himself seemed to chime in:

The mood inside of PNC Park — hosting the event for the first time after years at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center — was an odd mixture of fans happy to be back at a baseball park in the dead of winter and a fanbase growing more disillusioned by the day with current Pittsburgh Pirates decision-makers.

In that way, Piratesfest turned into something more akin to a focus group. With the Winter Meetings starting tomorrow, the Pittsburgh Pirates might want to remember that the club’s fans are still passionate enough to get angry.

For now.

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)