PITTSBURGH -- Every seat in Mars Area High School’s basketball gymnasium was occupied. Those who couldn’t find a seat either made themselves comfortable on the hardwood or stood by the doors. There was no shortage of students or faculty members rocking Pirates regalia.
On this frostbite-inducing afternoon, one that warranted standing-room-only status, Mars Area High School paid homage to David Bednar, the most prolific flamethrower in school history, by retiring his No. 24, the first time the school has retired a number for an athletic alumnus.
“I grew up being heavily involved in Mars athletics and always looking up to some of the great athletes that have been through here,” Bednar said. “I’ve seen some of the athletes who have been through here, and they’re incredibly talented and doing big things. So, to be the first one, it’s really an honor. I’m incredibly proud of it. I’m so proud of this high school, so proud to be from Pittsburgh, and I try to do my best to represent the area as well as I can.”
The idea of retiring Bednar’s number was pitched last year by Mars' athletic committee to Andy Bednar, David’s father and a coach and teacher at the school for more than two decades. The event didn’t materialize then -- COVID played a part -- but on Friday, David’s digits were officially enshrined.
“The word surreal gets used all the time, but it’s just unbelievable,” Andy said. “Ten years ago he was in this school, just like the rest of this student body. It’s hard to believe that he’s here now with his number being retired, being a big leaguer for four years with the Padres and Pirates. Just incredible. It’s been incredible.”
Added Bednar's mother, Sue: “All of his hard work, all of his diligence, all of his efforts, just to see it pay off in such a special way is amazing. I’ve been cheering for that number for years and years and years, so to see it retired is just a little bit overwhelming and just awesome. It’s such a blessing, and he couldn’t be more deserving.”
Bednar may currently wear No. 51 for the Pirates, but he sported No. 24 for much of his life. His affinity for No. 24 comes from Ken Griffey Jr.
“I liked how he did the backwards hat and hit homers,” Bednar said. “I’m obviously not a hitter, but I always thought he was awesome. Unbelievable player; I always wanted to be like him and I liked his number, so I kept it and I’ve always liked it. 51 is all right, though.”
Bednar’s athletic accomplishments alone made the one-time All-Star a worthy recipient of the honor, but his impact at Mars stretches beyond his acumen as a ballplayer.
Bednar, the Pirates’ 2022 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, remains an active member of the community, whether it be helping to donate baseball equipment to his elementary school or hosting baseball camps during the summer.
Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, who played alongside Andy in high school, spoke to Bednar’s dual impact in Pittsburgh.
“We get to see what he does on the field and how great he is … but he means just as much in the community and the way he gives back,” Kelly said. “You look at the things he does in the offseason -- he’s always there. For the Pirates, for Mars, for everybody.”
Before Bednar unveiled framed Pirates and Mars jerseys -- “Renegade” by Styx, Bednar’s walk-out song and a Pittsburgh anthem, blared in the background as he did so -- he took the microphone and offered his gratitude. He thanked the community, his family and his teachers, admitting after the fact that he was more nervous in this setting than during a save situation.
As he concluded, he left the next generation of students with a bit of wisdom.
“Keep your head down, keep working,” he said, “and anything is possible."