The Pirates Winter Caravan visited a total of 20 towns in four states in December as four different groups of players and coaches traveled throughout the region to spend time with their loyal fans. Also taking part in the three-day caravan (Dec. 11-13) were Pirates broadcasters, front office officials, the Pirate Parrot and the Pirates Pierogies.
At each public appearance, the participants signed autographs, met with members of the media, and discussed the excitement surrounding the upcoming season. And those representing the Pirates were greeted enthusiastically by fans everywhere they went.
"The caravan was a blast. It's a unique experience," Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. "You're back in A-ball. You're on a bus. You're going to small towns. You're shaking hands and you're thanking people for their support and their passion.
"Many of the people we were able to reach out to, they don't get to 50 games a year. They might only get to a couple games a year, but they watch every game or they listen to every game. They live and breathe baseball and their heart beats for baseball.
"The caravan is an opportunity to go into the environments in which they live and thank them for their unbridled passion. It's exciting, it's important and it's something that we need to do because it's an opportunity to give back."
In addition to making stops in places such as Youngstown (OH), Wheeling (WV), Johnstown (PA) and Erie (PA), the caravan also visited Altoona (PA ) -- home of the Pirates' Double-A affiliate, the Altoona Curve; Charleston (WV) -- home of the High-A West Virginia Power; and Jamestown, NY -- home of Pittsburgh's new Short-Season Class-A affiliate, the Jamestown Jammers.
Those who were a part of the caravan included All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, second baseman Neil Walker, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, first baseman Gaby Sanchez, infielder Josh Harrison, catcher Michael McKenry, outfielders Starling Marte, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata, and pitchers Jared Hughes, Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson. The players were joined by Hurdle and three members of his staff -- Bench Coach Jeff Banister, Third Base Coach Nick Leyva and First Base Coach Rick Sofield.
The caravan culminated with the 23rd Annual PirateFest, which took place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh on December 15 and December 16.
"The guys who were on the caravan got a true opportunity to see our fans' passion and an opportunity to say thank you to the fans that come out," Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. "Everywhere we go the crowds continue to grow, continue to get better."