PITTSBURGH — Friday night was full of feel-good moments for Pirates fans in attendance at PNC Park. At least, it was for most of them.
For one, the Pirates rallied from five runs down to beat the first-place Cardinals, 6-5, scoring three in the ninth inning and one more in the 11th to win their third in a row.
For another, beloved longtime usher Phil Coyne was honored by the team prior to the game on the occasion of his 100th birthday.
We're not crying, you're crying https://t.co/yb4y2ChrSr
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) April 28, 2018
However, for Bruno Manypenny, who was one of 15,748 ticket-buyers for Home Game 13 of the 2018 schedule, an evening out with friends got off to an unsettling start.
Upon entering PNC Park through the left-field entrance on Federal Street with three friends, Manypenny was approached by a ballpark staffer and told that his black-and-gold ‘Spend Nutting Win Nutting’ T-shirt was unacceptable attire.
“He said, ‘I don’t think we’re allowing that shirt in tonight,’ ” Manypenny told me over the phone on Saturday morning. “I thought he was joking.”
It turns out the staffer was serious. Manypenny said the ballpark employee used his walkie-talkie to converse with someone else, then informed him that he must remove the shirt, wear it inside-out, or leave PNC Park.
Manypenny said he was gobsmacked by that news, since he had worn the shirt in question to “several” games last season and even sported it to the team’s annual PiratesFest fan convention, which was held at PNC Park for the first time last December. (The featured photo on this story is of Manypenny attending that event.)
On the Pirates’ website, there is language regarding “guest conduct.” One passage in particular appears to apply to this situation. It reads that the Pirates reserve the right to eject people who wear “clothing which, in the judgment of the Pirates, is indecent, derogatory, obscene, or otherwise detracts from the experience of other (g)uests.”
However, Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said the security staffers in question made a mistake in ordering Manypenny to change his shirt.
“The policy is enforced on a case-by-case basis,” Warecki said in an email Saturday afternoon. “The security officials who encountered the guest deemed the shirt as contrary to our guest conduct policy. In this instance, the guest should not have been asked to turn his shirt inside out. All staff will be instructed of this interpretation of our policy.”
Manypenny, a 33-year-old lifelong Pirates fan and former season-ticket holder, said he decided to not cause further argument in the company of friends visiting PNC Park for the first time, so he removed the shirt with the derogatory reference to Pirates chairman of the board Bob Nutting in favor of a white undershirt.
In a Facebook post on his personal account, Manypenny explained further:
“I love the sport of baseball always have since I was a kid, but I disagree on how the front office runs this team and I think I should have the right to express that, while still supporting the players.”
Manypenny said that the staffer who confronted him about the shirt also inspected his ticket, presumably to make sure Manypenny didn’t put the shirt back on once he reached Section 128, located down the left-field line in PNC Park’s lower bowl.
“It was just a confusing experience,” Manypenny said. “There was a guy a few rows in front of me with (the likeness of) an assault rifle on his shirt and they let him in.”
2018 has proven to be a controversial year for Pirates management, considering the unpopular trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole and the current major-league payroll of just under $90 million, which ranks 27th of the 30 MLB teams.
The Pirates have actually been a pleasant surprise on the field, winning 15 of their first 26 games entering Saturday’s matchup against St. Louis at PNC Park. Colin Moran, one of the players acquired for Cole, has been a fixture in the lineup and at third base. Kyle Crick, one of the players acquired for McCutchen, has represented himself well in limited work out of the bullpen.
But fans have been slow to respond to the on-field success, with the Pirates averaging 13,399 in paid attendance at home games, or just 35 percent of capacity. Although persistent inclement weather has limited walk-up sales this spring, both the raw number of fans and the percentage of capacity rank 29th in MLB, ahead of only the rebuilding Marlins.
Manypenny said he enjoyed Friday’s thrilling win, but he’s unsure how the unpleasant incident at the gate will affect his willingness to attend more games this season. Prior to the Pirates’ admission that a mistake was made, he said he was questioning his loyalty to the team.
“It was just disappointing and unfair,” he said.