PITTSBURGH -- PirateFest has been in existence for 24 years, and it was popular and well attended even during the team's lean years. So it was no surprise when Pirates enthusiasts came streaming through the doors in large numbers as soon as the two-day event opened at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh on Saturday morning.
Fans of all ages came to the indoor baseball carnival with a little more bounce in their step and their heads held a little bit higher following a 2013 campaign that saw the Pirates win 94 games during the regular season, then defeat the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game before losing to eventual NL champion St. Louis in the Division Series.
PirateFest weekend is providing one more opportunity for the team and its fans to celebrate what was accomplished in 2013 before preparations for the 2014 season begin in earnest after the first of the year.
When team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle took the stage for an "Ask Pirates Management" question-and-answer session with season ticket holders, they received a warm round of applause before they were even introduced.
"These are the guys that brought you 94 wins and the playoffs back to Pittsburgh. They delivered," said Pirates play-by-play man Greg Brown, who served as the moderator for the Q&A.
Coonelly made it clear that the Pirates are not satisfied with merely snapping the franchise's string of 20 consecutive losing seasons and earning a playoff spot for the first time since 1992. They want more, just as their fans do.
"We accomplished a lot in 2013, but we didn't accomplish our ultimate goal, which is to bring a championship back here to Pittsburgh," Coonelly said. "We appreciate everything you do as season ticket holders of the Pirates. You sustained us during a period of down time. How we performed in 2013 and what we did was all for you, because you make us what we are."
"It's a different atmosphere here today, and it's been a different atmosphere in The Burgh over the winter," Hurdle added. "Truth be told, we are honored and humbled with the opportunity to serve you, our fan base."
During the Q&A, one fan confessed to being "underwhelmed" by the additions the Pirates have made to the roster so far this offseason -- which have included signing pitcher Edinson Volquez as a free agent and making trades for a couple of likely bench players -- catcher Chris Stewart and outfielder Jaff Decker. Huntington reassured that gentleman by saying: "We do not want this [winning] to be a one-time thing, and we're working hard to add to this core."
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, and the former first-round Draft pick just completed his 10th year with the organization. On the heels of such a successful season, Walker said this winter has been unlike any other he has encountered.
"Let's just say I've been noticed more [around Pittsburgh] this offseason than I have been the last nine offseasons combined," Walker said, before heading off to sign autographs for those who braved the long lines at PirateFest. "That's a good thing for the organization. It's a good sign and something we've been working toward for quite some time. The fan base is back full bore, and that's exciting."
Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com.