By Andy Sheehan

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Opening day excitement, even in the lean years, has been a guaranteed sellout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but not this year.

There are still about 4,000 tickets left, and even the few buyers at the box office are salty.

The departures of stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole have left a bitter taste.

“To put the best team on the field, Cole and McCutchen needed to be part of this team,” season ticket holder Rick Gradischek said.

The Pirates won’t put a figure on it, but advance ticket sales are down. Their marketing department has been offering steep discounts and special offers for weeks, and on the secondary market, such as websites like StubHub, tickets are going for far less than face value.

Loyal fans are disgruntled and even ticket season holders like Gradischek say they’re cutting back until they see a stronger commitment to winning from Pirates owner Bob Nutting.

“He’s the owner and we’re at the mercy of what he invests,” Gradischek said, “and we just wish he’d invest in all the players.”

The Pirates insist they’re in it to win and this is not a rebuilding year, but in a statement, Pirates President Frank Coonelly acknowledged that some fans will stay away until they prove it on the field.

“We are intensely focused on providing the very best experience and value to the fans who choose to join us at PNC Park in 2018. At the same time, we are working hard every day to attract new fans and win back fans who may have been with us in the past but are still undecided as we begin the season,” the statement said.

And even though there will be fewer fans in the seats, there will always be those like Gradischek for whom staying away for good is just not an option.

“I’m an optimist. This young pitching staff could turn into to something special,” he said. “But that’s pie in the sky.”

But every year hope springs eternal and if these young Bucs can prove their doubters wrong and put together some winning ways, ticket sales will be sure to follow.