The history of the Pittsburgh Pierogy Race

February 5th, 2021

In the midst of a 20-year streak of losing seasons, the Pirates found a durable winner.

The year is 1999, and it’s the seventh year in the two-decade period of struggles. The scoreboard at Three Rivers Stadium was often in the visiting team’s favor. But for a couple of minutes, every Pittsburgh fan’s eyes were glued to it as a trio of pierogies lit up the screen.

(For those unaware, a pierogy is a stuffed pastry traditionally made in Central or Eastern Europe, commonly filled with ingredients such as cheese, sauerkraut, fruit and much more.)

In the beginning, there were three: Sauerkraut Saul, Potato Pete and Cheese Chester. They ran their way through Pittsburgh via the scoreboard then tore out of right field toward the visitors’ dugout. Sometimes, the Pirate Parrot would work to sabotage a contestant en route to the finish line. And the fans loved it.

The Great Pittsburgh Pierogy Race, which is sponsored by Pennsylvania-based Mrs. T’s Pierogies, has continued well after the move to PNC Park in 2001. Here are some facts about the long-running race.

• There have been seven pierogies featured in the race: Sauerkraut Saul, Cheese Chester, Jalepeño Hannah, Oliver Onion, Potato Pete, Bacon Burt and Pizza Penny.

Jalepeño Hannah and Oliver Onion were added in the first few years of the event. After a new pierogy was hinted at on the Pirates' social media channels, the mustachioed Bacon Burt arrived in the 2015 season. Pizza Penny was the final entrant, as she was revealed alongside the new concessions items in '17.

Oliver Onion is the only pierogy whose filling is listed second in the name.

• The animated scoreboard sequence was discontinued in 2009. Now, the pierogies run from the third-base line near where the tarps are rolled up to the far end of the Clemente Wall in right field. The race is about 280 yards long, which is more than twice the distance around a baseball diamond (120 yards).

• The race was a hit right out of the gate. Fans called in to local sports radio stations wanting to discuss the latest outcome of the race. In place of signs for players, there were signs for the pierogy of choice.

“We don’t want it to be bigger than the game,” former Pirates spokesperson Mike Gordon told the Pittsburgh Business Times in 2000. “We’re not trying to draw too much attention to it. Our product is still baseball.”

• One pierogy made baseball history … depending on who you ask.

On July 23, 2014, Cheese Chester got off to a blazing start and looked like he couldn’t be beaten. As he turned to gauge if the pack of pastries was picking up the pace, Cheese Chester stumbled and injured his foot, requiring a trip to the 15-day injured list and a six-to-eight week expected recovery timetable.

So the Pirates did what they’d do with any other player: They sent Cheese Chester on what is believed to be the first rehab assignment for an MLB mascot. In fact, the day that Cheese Chester rehabbed in the Panera Bread Great American Bagel Race at Double-A Altoona -- facing Asiago Allie, Blueberry Bob and Cinnamon Crunch Cindy -- Charlie Morton pitched for the Curve on the same field as he worked toward full health.

Two days later, Cheese Chester would defeat Potato Pete -- who returned from retirement to take the vacant spot -- and reclaimed his place in the lineup. On Potato Pete's end, the Pirate Parrot let it be known through the Instagram introduction of Bacon Burt that the original pierogi was tossed in the freezer.

• Like the Pirates, the racing pierogies have some out-of-market rivals as well. They've traveled to face the Brewers' racing sausages in Milwaukee and the Nationals' presidents in Washington, D.C, and those two groups have also visited to race at PNC Park.

• The pierogies used to be introduced to "Run Like Hell" by Pink Floyd, but in recent years, they've come out to "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys.

• When fans were not allowed into the ballpark during the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pirates filmed the races and posted them on the MLB Ballpark App for fans to stay connected to the pierogies. Guest announcers from the Pittsburgh media were also given the opportunity to call the races.