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It's been a long, strange journey to Pirates' home opener

After a strenuous road trip to start the season, club is happy to play at PNC

MILWAUKEE -- Oh, what a long and strange trip it has been for the Pirates. Six games, but nearly two months. Finally, they'll be able to drop stakes at beautiful PNC Park on Monday, when they will host the Detroit Tigers in their 129th home opener at 1:35 p.m. ET.

It started in mid-February in Bradenton, Fla., wound across palm-lined highways to numerous Florida enclaves, and went through Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago and Milwaukee. Yes, Chicago -- the Milwaukee-bound team flight Thursday was diverted by weather to O'Hare Airport, where the Bucs boarded a bus to Milwaukee.

"The last 10 days, especially, have been really weird," said Neil Walker, the one Pirates player who will really be "home" for 11 days and 10 games. After three with the Tigers, it will be back to NL Central business, with the Brewers and the Cubs visiting.

The Bucs' season-opening road trip has been potholes-filled, and manager Clint Hurdle acknowledged the possibility that travel drain may have contributed to flat play.

"The more time you spend dwelling on it, the bigger it becomes, but I don't think anybody was," Hurdle said. "We compartmentalize it. We go to Spring Training, that becomes home; then we go on a trip to start the season and move on. I don't have that [dragging] feeling. One or two of the players might."

A festive, loud sellout crowd will attend PNC Park's 15th opening and take in the oddity of the Bucs' first Interleague home opener. But not the first time they will have opened against the Detroit nine.

How is that possible? Well, in their second season in the National League, the Pirates opened with a 5-2 win over the Detroit Wolverines on April 20, 1888. That made the Bucs' all-time record in home openers 2-0. It is now 73-55, including last year's 1-0 walk-off win over the Cubs on Walker's home run.

"We're really big on taking care of business where are feet are, but after Milwaukee, we'll look forward to our home opener," said Hurdle, who has been away from Pittsburgh since Jan. 15, when he, along with his family, ventured south before Spring Training to begin rehabbing after left-hip surgery.

Gerrit Cole and his Detroit opposition, right-hander Anibal Sanchez, will be the main act, but the opening acts will be pretty cool, too.

Under the bunting-bedecked ballpark railings, Andrew McCutchen and Walker will be presented with their 2014 Silver Slugger Awards, emblematic of being the NL's best hitters at their positions.

"The Voice" finalist and Pittsburgh native Chris Jamison will render the National Anthem, in front of a giant Stars and Stripes stretched across the outfield by 90 Pirates charter season ticket members.

Then Pirates and Tigers will step away from the foul lines they occupied when introduced, and raise the curtain in front of 40,000 who hope to soon be raising the Jolly Roger.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer.
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