Players, Managers Pick Up an Edge with Home Cooking
Sam Ross, Jr., Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Talk of home, in general, elicits warm and fuzzy feelings. It's no different when the topic turns to baseball teams and their home fields.
It's a timely topic with the Pirates early in a month that has 19 games scheduled for PNC Park, the most home outings for the franchise since it played 19 at Three Rivers Stadium in September 1992.
If these Pirates (29-33), can take advantage of their home cooking, they could find themselves comfortably on the plus side of .500, and perhaps generate some enthusiasm among the long-suffering fan base.
"Is it a goal?" manager John Russell said of bettering the break- even point. "It's there, but it's not the goal we ultimately want to achieve."
Most agree there are advantages to playing at home. In sports such as football and basketball, the advantage has to do with comfort and crowd support. In hockey and baseball, there are built- in tactical advantages. Home hockey teams have last line change, helping to gain favorable matchups, and the home player has the face- off advantage of putting his stick on the ice last. In baseball, the home team bats last, benefitting managers' decision-making.
But there's more to it.
"One of the biggest factors is you have people in the stands cheering for you instead of booing you," Russell said. "Not necessarily booing you, but cheering for the other team. That's a big lift."
If the Pirates get it going, they might have more of that lift from a big crowd, after drawing only 9,392 Wednesday and 10,728 Thursday.
"I think one year in Minnesota, we only lost 10 or 11 games at home all year," Pirates infielder Doug Mientkiewicz said. "We felt like, in a weekend home series, we only had to win Saturday or Sunday to win the series because Friday was ours.
"Coming into that place (Metrodome), your depth perception is off, the turf's fast, the roof's white. We had advantages, and our foot was on the gas pedal right out of the chute. It's a tough place to play. That's also true for (Colorado's) Coors; for smaller ballparks like Wrigley."
The Chicago Cubs are 26-8 at Wrigley this season, the best home record among NL teams. All six NL Central teams, including the Pirates, are above .500 at home.
"They're very comfortable there," Russell said of the Cubs and Wrigley. "Plus, they've got 40,000-something people cheering them on, too. You get a lot of energy from that."
Playing 81 games in a ballpark should give the home team an edge in dealing with the nuances of the facility.
"The parks are different," Mientkiewicz said. "Different cuts (of grass). Different nooks and crannies, depth perception, batter's eyes, backdrops. Little things like that you get used to at home."
The Pirates face the dual challenge of trying to draw more people, and then delivering for them when they come out to PNC Park.
"There have been a lot of times this year at home we've had really nice crowds and just looked pathetic (on the field)," Mientkiewicz said. "Nothing felt worse. We had a lot of guys talking, 'Man, we have to put some good games together here so they keep coming out. …