The one request former catcher has for first pitch reunion

March 2nd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Justice delos Santos’ Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When found out that he and were going to reunite for one more pitch, the backstop had a demand: No curveballs.

“The first thing Russ texted me was, ‘Please do not throw me a curveball,’” Burnett said.

“It’s going to be fun unless he throws me a curveball,” Martin said. “It’s probably going to be in the dirt, I’m going to have to block it, and I’m not ready for that.” 

The former batterymates know each other far too well.

Nearly a decade to the date after their first start together, Burnett and Martin will connect once again for the ceremonial first pitch at the Pirates' home opener on April 7, paying tribute to one of Pittsburgh's more memorable batteries in recent years.

“It’s going to be nice to be there on the mound, and then to actually look down and see Russ back there, man,” Burnett said. “That’s one of the main reasons that I was as good as I was. Him and Rod [Barajas] and [Francisco] Cervelli. To be able to have him back there, it’s going to be fun, man. I can’t wait. I’m super pumped, and I know this city’s going to be pumped. I’m sure of that.”

“My couple years in Pittsburgh were some of my best years in the big leagues,” Martin said. “Loved everything about Pittsburgh. Looking forward to being back.”

Both Burnett and Martin immediately jumped at the opportunity when Pirates owner Bob Nutting called them up and asked if they were interested. Burnett recalled that Nutting started the call by saying, "A.J., I know the answer to this, but I’m going to ask it anyway."

Burnett assumes the Pirates are going to wear their traditional home whites, but he lobbied for them to instead wear their alternate black jerseys, the ones they donned when Martin homered off Johnny Cueto in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game.

“I think it’s going to be a cool moment,” said manager Derek Shelton. “I mean, we’re going to have [the] first pitch from those two guys, and then 25, 30 minutes later, [] is going to walk to the plate. So it’s going to be cool, but I think the fact that Bob reached out personally to those guys and did it, it’s going to be a special day.”

Burnett and Martin will get the people going, but their ovation will pale in comparison to that of their former teammate McCutchen, who will be playing in his first home game at PNC Park in more than half a decade.

“I’m sure he’s going to get as warm of a welcome back that he can possibly have, and he deserves it,” Martin said.

“Anytime you get to go back to where you’re comfortable, where people enjoy you and enjoy watching you, it’s only going to make you be a better player and be in better spirits and just do better things,” Burnett said. “I look forward to Cutch having a super year. He’s going to be where he belongs, at home in his house in a city that he loves and that loves him. Couldn’t be happier for him.”