STEUBENVILLE - Pittsburgh Pirates fans young and old alike will have the opportunity to meet some of their favorite players along with obtaining autographs when the Pittsburgh Pirates Caravan rolls into the Fort Steuben Mall from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 12.
The caravan, which will be on a four-state tour of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York Dec. 11-13, will give baseball fans the opportunity to get autographs, participate in some baseball chit-chat and more, according to Cindy Kotsch, special projects and events coordinator for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.
"We have a good lineup coming," said Kotsch, adding the event is being sponsored by the newspapers and WEIR-AM. "We are the sponsors along with WEIR for the autograph session from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the (mall) court between Sears and J.C. Penney."
The caravan is scheduled to stop at 20 communities in the Tri-State Area, and four separate groups of players and coaches are lined up for the visits. Along with players and coaches will be Pirates baseball broadcasters, front office officials, the Pirate Parrot or the Pirates Pierogies. Those scheduled for the visit to Steubenville Dec. 12 include second baseman Neil Walker , third baseman Pedro Alvarez, pitcher Bryan Morris, coach Nick Leyva and broadcaster Steve Blass.
A native Pittsburgher, Walker batted .280 last year, his second full season in the majors. He drove in 69 runs with 14 home runs and 27 doubles. His 14 home runs were the most by a Pittsburgh second baseman since Warren Morris hit 15 in 1999. Walker hit safely in 17 straight games from June 27 through July 17. For his career, Walker has hit .280 with 38 home runs and 218 RBIs.
Walker comes from a sports-oriented family. His father, Tom, pitched in the big leagues with Montreal, Detroit, St. Louis and California between 1972 and 1977. His older brother, Matt, played in the Detroit organization, and his older sister, Carrie, played basketball with Killarney of the Women's Irish Super League.
Walker was named the 2010 winner of the Roberto Clemente Award by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers of America. The award has been presented annually since 1973 to the team's most valuable player.
Alvarez hit .244 last year while spending his first full season in the Major Leagues. He ranked second among National League third basemen in home runs with 30. Alvarez drove in 85 runs and had seven games with at least four RBIs. He led the National League with 18 home runs in day games, the most by a Pittsburgh player in day games since Willie Stargell hit 19 in 1971.
Alvarez was named National League Player of the Week for Aug. 27-Sept. 2.
The right-handed Morris was called up from Class AAA Indianapolis of the International League on Sept. 10 and made his Major League debut on Sept. 14 when he pitched against Chicago, retiring all three batters he faced. He gave up two runs in 1 inning of work against Milwaukee on Sept. 18, and did not allow a hit or a run in his last three appearances with the Pirates. He held Major League hitters to a .125 average and allowed one of his inherited runners to score.
While pitching in Indianapolis last year, he led the team's relief pitchers in strikeouts with 79 and in innings pitched with 81. His ERA was 2.67.
Leyva has been a member of Manager Clint Hurdle's staff since Nov. 24, 2010. In addition to serving as third base coach. he will be the team's infield coach. The 2012 season was Leyva's 36th in professional baseball and his 18th at the Major League level. He was manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1989 and 1990 before being fired in April of 1991.
Blass will be marking his 54th year of involvement with the Pirates and his 28th behind the microphone as a color commentator when the 2013 season begins. He has been associated with the team since signing his first professional contract on June 27, 1960.
A right-handed pitcher, Blass stuck with the Pirates for good in 1966 and pitched for 10 seasons at the Major League level, compiling a 103-76 record with 57 complete games and 16 shutouts in 282 games with 231 starts. He ranks seventh on the club's all-time list in strikeouts with 896.
During the five-year span of 1968 through 1972, Blass was one of the best pitchers in the National League, earning a 78-44 record with 50 complete games and a 3.05 ERA. He won a career-high 19 games in 1972. In the 1971 World Series against Baltimore, Blass recorded two complete-game victories, allowing just seven hits and two runs in 18 innings of work. He finished second in voting for the World Series MVP behind teammate Roberto Clemente and remains the last National League pitcher to throw a complete game in Game Seven of a World Series.
On Sept. 10, 2009, Blass recorded a pair of holes-in-one in the same round of golf. According to Golf Digest, the odds of a golfer making two aces in the same round are 1 in 67 million.
The caravan leads up the 23rd-annual PirateFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. PirateFest will open with a season ticket holders-only day Dec. 14 and will be open to the general public Dec. 15-16. The celebration of all things Pirate will include autograph and question-and-answer sessions with current players, the coaching staff, alumni and broadcasters. Fans will be able to get information about tickets for the 2013 season, take part in baseball and softball clinics, participate in contests, win prizes and more. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children 14 and younger.
The Pirates open the 2013 season at 1:35 p.m. on April 1 when they welcome the Cubs to PNC Park.
For information on the caravan, go to www.pirates.com. For information on the Steubenville visit, call the Herald-Star at (740) 283-4711; the Fort Steuben Mall at (740) 264-7781 or visit www.ftsteubenmall.com.