Local kid Bednar makes 'special' home debut

Entered to longtime Pittsburgh Steelers anthem 'Renegade'

April 8th, 2021

If someone stood on the streets of the North Shore of Pittsburgh and listened closely in the eighth inning of the Pirates’ 4-2 loss to the Cubs on Thursday, they might have thought the music was coming from Heinz Field.

As  trotted in, “Renegade” by Styx -- a staple of the Steelers’ pump-up playlist at the football stadium three blocks down from PNC Park -- blared from the PA system at PNC Park. It was an homage to the land that raised Bednar, a native of Mars, Pa., in the north hills of Pittsburgh.

When he was traded from the Padres to the Pirates in January as part of the Joe Musgrove deal, Bednar immediately felt it was the time to let “Renegade” loose.

“I was like, ‘You know what? It’s automatic,’” Bednar said. “At Steelers games, it always gets everybody fired up. So I figured, ‘Why not?’”

In Thursday’s box score, the one batter Bednar faced would be but a minor detail in the sixth straight loss for the Pirates, who struggled to hit with runners in scoring position after a golfed two-run homer by Javier Báez off Tyler Anderson put the Cubs ahead for good in the sixth inning. But to the Pittsburghers in the ballpark, Bednar's home debut was perhaps the most special moment of the game.

Bednar didn’t strike out Jake Marisnick like he struck out batters all throughout Spring Training, when he punched out 18 in 8 2/3 innings with his mix of a four-seamer with late life, a curveball with an effective new grip and a splitter he learned from Hideo Nomo.

But Bednar never really had a chance to get the strikeout. Marisnick swung out of the gate, lining a first-pitch curveball to left field, directly in front of the suite occupied by his family and friends. They had a first-class seat to the great diving grab Bryan Reynolds made to end the eighth and give Bednar a perfect ERA at PNC Park.

“That was an awesome catch,” Bednar said. “Awesome play by him out there. Definitely saved a run.”

The crew that Bednar had on hand spanned from Ohio to Philadelphia, with his parents, his cousins, his girlfriend and her family among those in attendance. They had a vinyl sign made for their man of the day, reading “BEDNAR PROUD #51.” It’s little surprise he had more than two dozen people in attendance; when the Pirates traveled to Chicago for a near-freezing Opening Day game, his girlfriend and uncle bundled up to make the trip.

The Bednar jerseys donned by fans walking the concourse would typically be a rare sight for a first-time Pirates reliever who has pitched only 20 2/3 Major League innings. But when the Bucs’ faithful sing “We are family!” each seventh-inning stretch, they mean it -- especially for those who bleed black and yellow. The cheering contingent must have had their eye on the bullpen all game, because before Bednar was even announced, he was getting hearty screams from the third-base line.

“You really can’t put it into words hearing them go crazy,” Bednar said. “Their section was really cool. I’m just really happy they were able to share it with me.”

The support surpassed the confines of the Pirates’ home ballpark. The Mars Area School District, in which Bednar played high-school ball, tweeted out photo after photo of their students wearing black and gold in honor of their 2013 alumnus, and even shared a few photos of Bednar in his varsity days.

Bednar will have plenty more opportunities to pitch at PNC Park. In fact, the way that he’s thrown the ball and the way the coaching staff has spoken of him, “Renegade” could be blaring in save situations in the future. When bullpen coach Justin Meccage talked Wednesday morning about guys he thought could handle the ninth, he said there were a few options, but mentioned two names: Richard Rodríguez, the de facto closer last season, and Bednar.

“Mentally, this cat is impressive,” Meccage said of Bednar. “This dude has got ice in his veins.”

As dedicated as the Pirates are to Bednar, he's equally as dedicated to the city that raised him. It’s not only evident through his tribute to the Steelers, but even in things as small as his clubhouse arguments during Spring Training in favor of Primanti Bros-style sandwiches: “Lot of disputes about if French fries belong on sandwiches, and I'm a big proponent of that.”

It’s also evident in his lengthy ties to the Bucs. Bednar has spoken previously of the many times he’s been to Pirates games, but one in particular came rushing back on Thursday: April 9, 2001. It was the inaugural Opening Day at PNC Park. Twenty years later, Bednar has had one of his own in a Pirates jersey.

“I just remember being like, ‘Whoa, this is so cool,’” Bednar said of the inaugural Opening Day. “Now, to have it come full circle, is even more special.