PirateFest Interviews with Chris Stewart & Neal Huntington

Chris Stewart PirateFest Interview

The Pirates were gracious enough to invite some bloggers into the Buc Social VIP area at PirateFest today. At noon, Tom (RumBunter), Charlie (Bucs Dugout), Richard (Saber Bucs), Steelreign (Pittsburgh Sports Forum), and I had the opportunity to talk with new Bucco catcher Chris Stewart.

Stewart, a California guy, just got into town and is getting settled with his wife and two kids. It’s his first time ever in Pittsburgh, but he’s looking forward to the new setting. Stewart said, “I’m excited…There’s a community feel with Pittsburgh that my wife and I enjoy.”

Stewart said he would’ve loved to stay with the Yankees, but is excited to get going with the Pirates. He mentioned that it’s nice coming to a legit, contending team. That’s refreshing to hear from a fan’s perspective, after so many years of bad baseball here in Pittsburgh.

He’s also excited to play with Russell Martin again. In 2012, Martin started 116 game behind the plate for the Yankees, while Stewart started the other 46.

A main talking point was his ability to frame pitches, or “steal strikes.” Like Martin, Stewart is among the best defensive catchers in all of baseball. Both catchers were among the top pitch framers last season.

On the new rule banning home plate collisions, Stewart said he’s a traditionalist and doesn’t like seeing many changes to the game. At the same time, he’s all for protecting catchers, so it’s a tough call. Stewart was on the Giants in 2011 when Buster Posey suffered a season-ending injury in a collision; that play seems to be the catalyst for the rule change.

Stewart seemed like a smart, genuine guy who can be a good addition to the Pirates’ clubhouse.

Neal Huntington PirateFest Interview

Later in the afternoon, Charlie, Steelreign, Kipper (Pittsburgh Sports Forum), Drew (RumBunter), and I got the chance to talk to general manager Neal Huntington.

We talked a bit about the starting rotation – how Edinson Volquez and others fit in – and Huntington preached the importance of depth: “Every time we’ve thought we had a surplus somewhere, that surplus dissipated quickly. And in some cases, that surplus becomes a deficit overnight.” With Liriano, Cole, Morton, Locke, Rodriguez, Volquez, possibly Burnett, and others on the way, NH said that “it will work itself out.”

When I asked him about how Gregory Polanco and Andrew Lambo are progressing in winter ball, he said, “Andrew (Lambo)… getting some work at first base, just as an option there if need be. We’d like to give Andrew a shot and see what he can do – a 24-year-old who hit 30+ home runs in the minor leagues last year – not getting a lot of love and we think some people have turned the page on him too quickly… the young man has grown up, he’s made some adjustments, and he’s in a really good spot.” If the Bucs choose an internal option to platoon with Gaby Sanchez at first base, Lambo would be the guy.

Clarifying his comments from a few weeks ago, Neal said “If (top-tier free agents) are looking for top-tier dollars, they’re going to play somewhere else… We certainly paid market value for Russell Martin… so it’s not that we won’t pay market value when it’s appropriate.”

We were only supposed to talk to NH for about 15 minutes, but he kindly took more questions and stayed for about a half-hour.

Both Stewart and Huntington gave us great insight – thanks to them for taking our questions. It was nice meeting some of the bloggers and putting names with faces. Huge thanks to Terry, head of Pirates’ social media, for making this happen. This was an awesome experience and I’m glad I got to take part in it.

Go Bucs

PirateFest Schedule Announced

The Pirates finally announced the schedule for the 23rd annual PirateFest, which will be held this weekend at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The full, lengthy schedule can be found HERE.

Many people (including us) have been anxiously awaiting to see which players are scheduled to appear at the festival. The main autograph lines will look like this:

– Friday, December 14th
Jose Tabata, Clint Barmes and Pedro Alvarez (6:30 to 7 p.m.)
Michael McKenry, Alex Presley, Jack Wilson and Vernon Law (7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.)

– Saturday, December 15th
Michael McKenry, Dick Groat, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke (12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.)
Neil Walker, Clint Barmes and Gaby Sanchez (1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.)
Jack Wilson, Vernon Law and Doug Drabek (3 p.m. to 4 p.m.)
Jose Tabata, Josh Harrison, Starling Marte and Alex Presley (4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.) Andrew McCutchen, Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris (5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.)

– Sunday, December 16th
Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Jeff Locke and Doug Drabek (noon to 1:30 p.m.)
Andrew McCutchen, Gaby Sanchez and Dick Groat (1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.)
Josh Harrison, Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris (3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Again, we are assuming that these are the main autograph lines. If you are a season ticket holder and have access to the MVP Zone, there will be more sessions and shorter lines over there.

The Q&A with Pirates Management should be top-notch with the recent criticism of the front office. It looks like those segments will be held Friday from 7:00 to 8:00 and Saturday from 4:00 to 5:00.

You can buy your tickets HERE.