Cutch greeted with ovation, tribute in PNC return

Former Pirate doubles, nabs runner at home plate in first game vs. Pittsburgh

May 11th, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- Thursday night and Friday morning brought nothing out of the ordinary for . He ate at The Oven Pizza Co. in Wexford. He slept at home, in Pittsburgh's northern suburbs, with his wife, Maria, and his son, Steel. He took Steel to a doctor's appointment for shots. "He was a big guy," McCutchen said. "He didn't cry."

Then McCutchen took a familiar trip to an unfamiliar destination. McCutchen drove down to the north shore of the Allegheny River, walked into PNC Park and for the first time found his locker in the visiting team's clubhouse.

"Good to be back. Still hasn't really set in yet, being on visitor's side. A little weird," McCutchen said Friday afternoon before the series opener between the Giants and Pirates, an 11-2 Pittsburgh win. "I felt like I needed a few more steps. You always walk by it, but you don't ever notice it. Now you notice it."

McCutchen couldn't help but notice what happened when he took the field Friday night. He ran out for warm-ups, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation. The public-address announcer introduced McCutchen, batting second and playing right field, and the cheers were even louder.

The day had been full of reunions. McCutchen met with the Pittsburgh media for nearly 20 minutes in a news conference room typically reserved for the home team. He saw friends and former teammates during batting practice. Before leaving the field, he spent nearly 15 minutes signing autographs for fans.

When McCutchen came to bat in the first inning, the Pirates played the first of two "Thank You 22" videos on their left-field scoreboard. stepped off the mound, stood in front of the plate, and for 90 seconds, Pittsburgh expressed its appreciation for the former face of the franchise.

What were his emotions like in that moment?

"They were intense. Something to remember, for sure," McCutchen said. "I did my best to soak it all in. They did a good job giving me that moment. I signaled to [Cervelli] that I was ready to go, but he shook his head, 'No.' So I stepped back and continued to be in that moment."

McCutchen tipped his helmet while shortstop and the entire Pirates outfield -- , and -- clapped along with the fans. An "M-V-P" chant broke out. McCutchen went down looking at a called third strike, and the response was a mix of applause and boos.

"Today might have been cooler than my debut, honestly," Taillon said. "That reception and just seeing him up there was really cool. I've never been a part of something like that, so I didn't really know when it was time to step on the mound. I'm glad Cervelli knew what to do."

The Pirates played a longer video and another ovation ensued when McCutchen took his place in front of the Roberto Clemente Wall in right field. Fans stood and cheered before each of his five at-bats, and they celebrated his seventh-inning double off reliever . It's no coincidence the Pirates drew a season-high attendance of 34,720 on McCutchen's first night back in town.

"The man off the field is a very special and significant guy. The player on the field was a special and significant Pirate as well," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He'll be an iconic Pirate forever."

For nine seasons, McCutchen called PNC Park's outfield his home. The city still is. He's a San Francisco Giant now, in town only to play the Pirates for the first time since being traded in January, but his attachment to Pittsburgh hasn't been broken.

"This is my home. Me and my wife got married and made that decision a long time ago that this is where we're going to live, regardless of baseball," McCutchen said. "That's not going to change. We love it here."

McCutchen earned Pittsburgh's adoration with his elite play, energetic attitude and charming personality. He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2013 and the Roberto Clemente Award in '15, representing both his on-field impact and his presence in the community. He helped bring postseason baseball back to Pittsburgh after a 20-year drought.

McCutchen said he was only a part of that success, but as starter said earlier this week, "He was the Pirates." McCutchen said he hasn't reflected too much on his accomplishments in black and gold, anyway, because he's still playing in black and orange.

"I don't look at anything like a closed book. I just look at it as another chapter," McCutchen said. "I'm still making the book right now."