Jeff Karstens has pitched in Altoona before, as a minor leaguer for Trenton in 2005, and of course, he remembers the ballpark's most recognizable feature.
"I remember the roller coaster in right field," said the Pirates pitcher, who will make a rehab start for the Curve tonight against Harrisburg.
Karstens will go three innings or 45 pitches in his first rehab start coming back from a shoulder injury. The right-hander has been on the big league disabled list since April 18 after making just three starts.
"I don't want to go out there and do too much, just go out there and throw strikes and let the hitters get themselves out," Karstens said by phone Sunday from Detroit.
Karstens probably doesn't want to remember the last time he pitched in Altoona. It came on April 29, 2005 against a loaded Curve lineup that included Jose Bautista, Brad Eldred, Josh Bonifay, Ronny Paulino, Rajai Davis and Ray Sadler.
The Curve tagged Karstens that day for six earned runs on 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings, with Bautista and Sadler each homering off him in the sixth. After Karstens was pulled, Eldred crushed a grand slam in the sixth off a Trenton reliever, and the Curve went on to a 10-3 win.
One of Karstens' other memories about Altoona involved Eldred.
"I remember a parking garage somewhere out there in left-center, and I remember Brad Eldred almost hit it one time," Karstens said. "It was a massive home run and one of the farthest balls I've ever seen hit."
Karstens, who was traded from the Yankees to the Pirates in 2008, has gone on to become a key member of the Bucs' pitching staff. He was 9-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 30 games (26 starts) last year and was 0-1, 4.50 before the injury this season.
Karstens joked that all the down time from being on the disabled list has tested his sanity.
"You get to the field every day and you have to do the same rehab stuff every day, which is kind of tedious, but that's part of the rehab process," he said. "That's why a lot of guys don't like going on the DL. You don't get to play, you see the guys compete day in and day out, and you just sit on the bench not being able to contribute in any way.
"They're paying you to be on the field, they're not paying you to sit on the bench," he added. "So when you're not able to go out there and compete with your team and do what you like to do it's always frustrating."
While the big leaguer is pitching tonight, the other Curve pitchers will be on the bench taking mental notes of how he goes about his work.
"One thing I'll prep them for and what to watch for with Jeff is there's not a lot of effort to it," Curve pitching coach Jeff Johnson said. "He's not out there trying to blow. He's trying to pitch, and so he understands that velocity is not what it's all about.
"For young guys to see that, that you can be 88-92 and pitch and just make pitches and locate, that's good for them. It works in the big leagues."
The Pirates have stayed close to .500 in the early going thanks primarily to their pitching staff, which has been near the top of the National League in ERA all season. Karstens has had a good view of it all during his time on the DL.
"It's been really impressive," he said of the Bucs' pitching. "Coming out, they've embraced everything that's happened. We've played in a lot of tight games, and I feel like everybody feels like we can compete in those games.
"Overall, from top to bottom, our pitching staff as a whole has an idea of what their role is and what they need to do to be successful," he added. "I think that's part of the reason we've been able to be successful."
Karstens' performance tonight will help the Pirates determine how close he is to returning to big league form. Johnson said the primary thing he'll be looking for from the pitcher will be his health.
"I'm not worried about performance right now, not with him," Johnson said. "It will be all about is he healthy, is he loose, making sure that he's not doing things [such as] pitching around any injury or things like that."