BRADENTON, Fla. (KDKA) — Seventeen years in MLB, A.J. Burnett is coming back to Pittsburgh to finish out his career where he can be happy.
“The main thing is how I was accepted,” says Burnett.READ MORE: Police: Central Catholic High School No Longer At Risk For Threat After Arrest Made Following Social Media Comments
He likes what he sees in these young Pirates.
“I’ve seen the steps and strides these guys have made since 2012,” Burnett says. “I saw it last year across the diamond; it’s impressive. If these guys are going to win here, I want to be a part of it.”
He believes the days of no run support are gone. And he’s here to give Pirates’ fans what they expect.
“As long as those people in that city know that you’re leaving your heart out there, that’s all they want,” said Burnett.
Burnett’s boys are now 13 and 10 and he enjoys seeing his teammates’ babies and toddlers around the clubhouse.
“They’re starting to realize, this is why I’m playing. I’m good at baseball, but this is why I’m playing, for these little guys and the wife and everybody at home. I think it puts it in perspective for them a little more,” said Burnett.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the MLB experience scale is Jung-Ho Kang.
After a flurry of attention at the start of Spring Training, the South Korean superstar is passing on interviews and concentrating on baseball. The crack of his bat needs no translation and everybody is trying to overcome the language barrier.
“It’s getting easier on a daily basis. Jung is working hard through his interpreter to learn more English words, especially the baseball terms,” second baseman Neil Walker said.
“It actually brings a lot of laughter and fun to the guys trying to learn Korean now and jokes flying,” added pitcher Mark Melancon.
The team will have plenty of time to learn Korean. Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington says he fully expects Kang to make the Opening Day roster.
And after a tough day of cuts and slimming the roster closer to an eventual 25, the Pirates are now starting to turn their thoughts north. Initially to Opening Day in Cincinnati, Josh Harrison’s hometown.READ MORE: Funeral Arrangements Made For Pittsburgh Police Sergeant Richard Howe
“This will be my first Opening Day as a starter and to be able to do that back home is something nobody would ever imagine or dream,” the third baseman said.
And after a jaunt to Milwaukee, the Pirates return to play in front of the home crowd at PNC Park on Monday, April 13.
“You look forward to opening day at home and the fan base has been incredible,” Walker said.
It’s a fan base these Pirates know they have energized over the last three years.
“The sellouts on the weekends, the rivers packed with all the boats, people hanging from the bridges. It’s just nuts,” said relief pitcher Tony Watson.
“It’s amazing to play there,” outfield Gregory Polanco added. “They just give you a lot, too much love.”
The Pirates really do feel the home field advantage.
“It’s definitely a place you want to play,” Melancon said.
“They support us the whole year and we try to do everything we can to please them,” added pitcher Francisco Liriano.
These Pirates also want the fans to know they are not interested in another Wild Card game; they want more and they believe in each other.
“We feel like we can win, we will win, and you know, given the opportunity, we have a great opportunity to win the division and then the World Series,” said Walker.
The fun begins in just 10 days against the Reds in Cincinnati.MORE NEWS: 'Everybody Loved Him'; Rennerdale Community Comes Together To Celebrate Life Of Louis Vignone, Postal Worker Shot, Killed In Collier Township