BRADENTON, Fla. - Curve and Pirates officials have always spoken about how great of a working relationship their organizations have, and the Buccos will reward their Double-A affiliate and Altoona by visiting Peoples Natural Gas Field for an exhibition game in April of 2013.
"I'm tickled that we're going to get them," Curve owner Bob Lozinak said Saturday night by phone. "It's just wonderful."
The Pirates and Curve will play a few days before the start of the 2013 regular season. The exact date will not be known until later this year, after Major League Baseball's 2013 schedules are revealed, but the most likely dates are Monday, April 1 or Tuesday, April 2.
The exhibition will mark the Pirates' second visit to Altoona. They came to Blair County Ballpark on May 15, 2000 for an exhibition against the Curve, and 7,346 fans showed up to watch the first game ever played in Altoona by a Major League Baseball team.
"I think the fans will be very excited," Curve general manager Rob Egan said, "and the reason I say that is, since we had them the first time, our fans have asked us, 'When are they coming back again?'"
The Curve had hoped to keep the news of the Pirates exhibition secret until Thursday, when they were planning to make what was billed as a "special franchise announcement" prior to the season opener against Erie at PNG Field. Those plans were changed Saturday when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review broke the news on Twitter.
"I'd really hate to upstage the public announcement, but we've got a great relationship with the Curve ownership and Curve management and the fans up there in Altoona, and we've been looking for an opportunity to come up there," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said Saturday night by phone.
The visit by the Pirates, Coonelly added, offers "a good opportunity to reward very loyal fans of both the Curve and the Pirates."
The Curve still plan to proceed with plans Thursday to make their public announcement and reward fans who show up.
"The big thing for our fans to know is they will have a benefit for being there that night and hearing the special announcement," Egan said. "There will be a benefit out of it that will help them enjoy that game next year even more."
Next year's exhibition game at PNG Field is expected to be played in the afternoon, likely 1 or 2 p.m., Egan said.
When the Pirates visited Altoona in 2000, it was on an off day during the regular season. Those types of exhibitions are no longer allowed under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, so some major league organizations have gone the route of playing exhibitions against a minor league affiliate before the season.
The Pirates are playing exhibition games at the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday and Tuesday, and those type of games are more lucrative than visiting a minor league ballpark.
Lozinak said the Curve first approached the Pirates about a possible exhibition game in 2009, when the franchises extended their player development contract.
"They had made a commitment to us that they'd do it," Lozinak said. "Then all these Philly games came up, and I thought, well, they may have to back out. So I was a little surprised, too, that we might get it.
"It's great for us because it shows that we have a great relationship with the Pirates. They treat us so, so, so good, like we're part of them."
The Curve are an even bigger part now than in 2000 because the Pirates have so many former Altoona players on their roster.
"That's an excellent point," Egan said. "I think the bond between the Pirates and the Curve has only gotten stronger as the years have gone on because of that fact. Now having several guys as Curve alums making an impact at the big league level, like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker ... to have them and the rest of the Pirates at our facility will be fantastic."