PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s time to play ball. Fans are set to pack PNC Park over on the North Shore this afternoon for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2012 Home Opener.

The Pirates will take the field against the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:35 p.m. The game is a sellout.

And Pirates’ President Frank Coonelly is optimistic about the new season.

“The guys are ready to get it going,” said Coonelly of the team. “They worked hard at Spring Training and we’re anxious to get it started here against the Phillies on Opening Day.”

The game action may not start until the afternoon, but fans are getting the celebration started this morning as they gather on the North Shore.

Event parking there opened to the public at 9:30 a.m. Then, at 10 a.m., the Clemente Bridge closed to traffic.

The gates to PNC Park open at 11:30 a.m., and the pre-game ceremonies get going at 12:40 p.m.

There’s plenty of new stuff for fans to enjoy at the ballpark this year, including some great food.

“We’ve created a new grill stand called the General Robinson Grill, and at that stand, we have a SmokeHouse Dog that’s topped with our own house-smoked pulled pork and some onion straws,” said Steve Musciano, the head of concessions at PNC Park. “And then, we have the Polish Hill Dog, you know what, we just love putting pierogies on everything in Pittsburgh, so we threw some pierogies and cole slaw on there.”

Meanwhile, Coonelly says last season brought some important lessons for the team and the organization as a whole.

“I think they learned that Pittsburgh is a baseball town. That really was the most important thing, for those guys to see this town embrace them, embrace the team, embrace the organization, and come out here to PNC Park in record numbers was meaningful to them,” he said. “It gave them even more determination to bring a winner back to Pittsburgh.

“In terms of the last two months of the season, I think as an organization we learned some lessons,” Coonelly added. “Obviously, we had pushed some young, starting pitchers to inning levels they had never hit before. There was some result… we had to shut some guys down, some guys didn’t perform as well as they had for the first four months. The good news is, they’ve now pushed through those limits and they should be able to go beyond those limits this year and it also told us that we needed to get better up the middle.”

Listen to Coonelly’s full interview with The Fan Morning Show:

He adds that after putting in hard work during Spring Training, the team is ready to get going.

“We think we addressed needs that we had during the off-season,” Coonelly said. “The guys that we brought in here have really worked hard along with the guys that were here last year – continued development of this young core like [Andrew] McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata for a full year. We’re very optimistic.”

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