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Young, future Pirates to train at PNG Field

Mirror file photo Baseball fans take in a Curve game on Aug. 29 during the 2015 season at PNG Field.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Altoona Curve have reached an agreement to have Altoona’s Peoples Natural Gas Field serve as the Pirates’ alternate training facility during the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

“It says a lot about the relationship the Altoona Curve has with the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Curve General Manager Derek Martin said Thursday afternoon. “It says a lot about our facility, and we are 98 miles from Pittsburgh, which makes it very easy to transport players to Pittsburgh. We’re set up very nicely to meet all the guidelines they are looking to meet for the taxi squad.”

The squad will be comprised of players who could be called up to play for the Pirates during the season.

The Pirates will report to Pittsburgh next week, conduct an abbreviated camp beginning Wednesday at PNC Park, and games are scheduled to start without fans July 23-24.

The regular season will be 60 games.

It’s not yet clear when the players and staff will start reporting to Altoona, although Martin said the earliest would be Wednesday.

“The Pirates organization is appreciative of the long-standing relationship we have had for over two decades with the Altoona Curve,” Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington said. “The people, proximity, along with the first-class facility, makes Peoples Natural Gas Field an ideal choice to safely host our alternate training site for the upcoming season.”

Players and members of the Pirates player development staff will work out at PNG Field throughout the entire season.

“The staff is excited that there is some sort of baseball coming back to Peoples Natural Gas Field, but we’re still in the learning process of what having the taxi squad means,” Martin said. “We’re still finding out what will be needed of our staff and what we’re allowed and not allowed to do. There’s a lot of training going on right now and understanding what all this means.”

Martin said his staff is working through a 102-page safety guideline which follows everything Major League Baseball has put into place. He said PNG Field’s guidelines will mirror those at PNC Park.

Martin approached the Pirates about whether fans might be allowed to take in some of the workouts from the stands.

“I have asked the Pirates that question,” he said. “Unfortunately, they can’t make those decisions. That comes from Major League Baseball and also the Department of Health. What I can say is that with the help of our local officials, we have designed a COVID-19 safety plan for our ballpark that as we speak is in the hands of the Department of Health. Right now, we can have 250 people in the ballpark, but we need an approved plan to have more than 250. We have not heard back from the Department of Health yet.

“Our hopes are that we can open it up to some of the public to be able to come purchase a ticket to come watch, whether it’s an intrasquad game or training. I’m not sure exactly what the Pirates will be doing day in and day out, but it will kind of be like a spring training turned summer training for three months just to make sure the players are ready to go if they need to be called over to play in Pittsburgh.”

Players and staff will be under the guidance of the Pirates’ medical and training staffs and will follow set guidelines as far as interacting with the public and doing things like going out to eat in Altoona.

Meanwhile, Martin has been working on finding the taxi squad a place to stay.

“I have presented the Pirates a couple options in regard to lodging,” Martin said. “We need lodging for staff and players. They have said to plan for about 40 to 45 rooms.”

The roster will be announced at a later time.

Though it means there will be activity at PNG Field, the announcement does not mean the Curve will be hiring any extra staff. In fact, the team is planning to furlough more than half its full-time staff.

“We had to have a hard conversation with a lot of our staff, and of our 26-person full-time staff, effective July 5, we had to furlough about 60 percent,” Martin said. “I don’t see a lot of extra responsibilities as of right now for us. The Pirates will be bringing in some of their staff.”

PNG Field will continue to host several other events this summer as the Pirates work around PNG’s pre-existing schedule.

“We are hosting the U.S. Elite baseball tournament this weekend,” Martin said. “Through our talks with the Pirates, I have given them a list of all our events. They are working with us to make sure that we can still host all of the events that the community has been planning on. They have been great to work with, and we’re figuring out a way to keep everyone on course and happy. Events like the Fourth of July celebration will go on, and the Pirates have been very good with helping make sure it happens.”

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