Bucs’ pitcher wows fans

As classy gestures go, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jason Grilli turned in one of the most memorable ones in Altoona Curve history Monday afternoon.

Grilli, on a rehab assignment from the Pirates, started on the mound and pitched one inning for the Curve in their season finale. Usually after major league pitchers do that in the minors, they go in and take a shower, get dressed and leave the ballpark before the game is finished.

What Grilli did after he finished pitching was so unusual that it was nothing short of stunning, and unprecedented at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“Just across the board class act,” Curve General Manager Rob Egan said.

The pitcher jumped over the fence down the right field line, walked up the steps and started signing autographs for fans while sitting on a picnic table on the concourse. He remained there for about an hour and 15 minutes, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

Grilli did it all on his own with the game still going on – without being asked by anyone on the Curve staff – and signed several hundred autographs.

“Definitely a very classy individual,” Tim Pittsley of DuBois said after he and his nephews got autographs. “Very proud that he’s doing this for the local folks around here, taking his own time. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Dozens of kids thought so, too, as they were able to get a big leaguer’s autograph.

“It was a really cool experience,” Brenden Grimminger, 9, of Altoona said after Grilli signed his crimson Curve jersey. “I’ve always wanted an autograph by Jason Grilli.”

Wearing a black Pirates shirt, Brenden’s father, Gary, added, “It’s just really cool that Jason would spend the time for all these fans. He doesn’t have to do that, but that’s pretty awesome.”

Grilli, who is coming back from a forearm injury and plans to rejoin the Pirates in the coming days for their playoff push, signed autographs from about 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. The Curve have scheduled autograph sessions with Steelers players and other celebrities over the years, and a few of them barely even signed for that long.

Grilli did it as a show of respect for the fans, and by the smiles on their faces, he certainly earned it.

“I know there’s a lot of fans that came out to support me and want me back in Pittsburgh, so it’s just a way to pay back dividends to the fans,” Grilli said.

“Without the fans,” he added, “there’s not all the noise and the support that gets us adrenalized, and there’s really no business of baseball. So they’re a part of it. I know that, so I try to include them and make them feel like what’s going on in Pittsburgh is really special. All the way out here in Altoona everybody’s sensing that and feeling that, so they’re a part of it, too.”

The only occurrence in Curve history similar to what Grilli did was when New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte stood near the bullpen fence and signed autographs for about 15 minutes during the game after he pitched for Trenton in the 2010 Eastern League Championship Series. That was a classy and memorable gesture on Pettitte’s part, but 15 minutes pales in comparison to the 75 minutes Grilli spent during his impromptu session.

“It just shows me that Jason Grilli, and several other athletes, get it,” Egan said. “They understand that the fans are what make it go, because if the fans don’t show up, then there aren’t the finances to be able to pay the players.

“For Jason to do that was tremendous. He was even going to sit in the stands. The only reason we asked him to move [to the concourse] is we just didn’t want to cause a jam in the stands there, and he was kind enough to do that.”

Grilli, a National League All-Star this season, is a fan favorite for the Pirates, and his actions Monday earned him even more fans in Altoona.

“I’m pretty surprised he did it because he’s a really good player,” 11-year-old Daniel Hamer of Altoona said after getting his autograph, “and I look up to him as a pitcher.”

Does he look up to him even more now?

“Yeah, I do,” Hamer said.