Fans not bothered by weather

By John Mehno

For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH – There were 39,500 people in PNC Park for the Pirates opener on Sunday, and most of them started the baseball season the same way:

Clearing snow off their cars.

Snow flurries flew early but were gone by game time. The cold lingered, though. Temperature at first pitch was 39 degrees, with a 14 mile per hour wind blowing toward left field.

The saving grace was the day long sunshine that at least helped warm the field and a good portion of the stands.

“It wasn’t as bad as it seemed,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I thought it was going to be worse.”

The jolt of going from the warmth in Florida to frigid cold was tempered a bit by Saturday’s pit stop in Indianapolis, where they played a final exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds on a raw afternoon.

The northern exhibition finale has become a recent tradition and will probably continue.

“It’s important to get up here and play in the cold before the season starts,” general manager Neal Huntington said.

How long since a Pirates opener had been that cold? It doesn’t take long to research.

They opened the 2013 season on April 1 at 41 degrees with a 12 miles per hour wind. They lost that game, 3-1 to the Chicago Cubs.

Elsewhere:

n The opening day start would have gone to Gerrit Cole, but his spring training was delayed by a rib injury.

Cole pitched in Florida on Saturday and was on hand Sunday afternoon. Pitching coach Ray Searage stayed in Florida to watch his work.

Cole was up to six innings and 97 pitches in his most recent outing.

Hurdle said the Pirates haven’t decided when Cole will make his first regular season start.

n Before the Pirates could start the season, they had to settle their 25-man roster.

It was good news for infielder Cole Figueroa, outfielder Matt Joyce and lefthander Cory Luebke.

The Pirates chose to keep Figueroa over Pedro Florimon, who appeared in 24 games for Pittsburgh last season.

“(Florimon) has been a good player for us,” Hurdle said. “But I think there’s more to the overall package from an offensive and defensive versatility standpoint with Cole.”

Joyce had already been told he would be added to the roster. He won a job in spring training after coming in as a non-roster player.

Luebke was also in line to claim a middle relief spot, provided the Pirates didn’t find someone they liked better on the waiver wire as teams trimmed their rosters.

But Cole wasn’t sure he should look for a place to live in Pittsburgh until the last moment.

Although he has played for the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the past, this was the first time Figueroa was on the opening day roster in the major leagues.

“It’s definitely another chapter,” he said. “Kind of a cool moment for me.”

It wasn’t so good for Florimon, one of three players designated for assignment. Infielder Jake Goebbert and righthanded reliever John Holdzkom were also in that category.

“(Florimon) has been a good player for us,” Hurdle said. “(But) I think there’s more to the overall package from an offensive and defensive versatility standpoint with Cole.”

Actually, Florimon batted .087 for the Pirates last season.

Figueroa was 13-for-48 (.271) in spring training this year.

Goebbert, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman/outfielder, saw his chances diminish after David Freese was signed.

Holdzkom, who played a part in the Pirates’ 2012 wild-card season, has been unable to regain the velocity that helped him register 14 strikeouts in nine innings that season. He won a game and saved another in that season’s stretch run.

n Infielder Jason Rogers was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis. He was acquired in the offseason from Milwaukee.

“We like the man, we like the player,” Hurdle said. “I felt like he got some traction offensively toward the end of spring training. He’s a guy we anticipate being able to help us during the season.”

n Three players were placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 25: Third baseman Jung Ho Kang, catcher Elias Diaz and righthanded reliever Jared Hughes.

All three remained at the team’s training base in Florida to continue their rehab work.

n Because of a malfunction in the replay system, the start of the game was delayed 10 minutes.

Both teams were also allowed unlimited crew chief reviews.

n Freese finally got a chance to face the Cardinals. He helped the win the World Series in 2011.

“It’s business as usual,” he said. “I have a lot of friends over there, but I’m a Pirate now.”

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com