Backyard Brawl Heads to PNC Park

Pitt, WVU ready for intriguing midweek showdown

Josh Rowntree
May 13, 2019 - 5:41 pm
PNC Park

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

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The Backyard Brawl is finding some middle ground. 

The latest installment of the Pitt-West Virginia rivalry will go down Tuesday night at 6 p.m. And the backdrop will be a spectacular one, as the team’s will meet at PNC Park for the first time. 

The Panthers are 3-2 all-time at PNC Park, but have not played at the Pirates’ home since 2009, when it had its last City Game matchup with Duquesne. But, since Duquesne’s program folded in 2010, Pitt has not had a chance to return.

West Virginia, meanwhile, has played Penn State the previous two seasons on the North Shore, winning both matchups. 

“I’m very excited, but excited for these young men,” first-year Pitt coach Mike Bell said. “We’ve talked about, from day one, trying to create memories here. We want to create memories in a lot of different ways. We want to be able to compete for championships. We want to have success off the field, in the classroom. But we also want to see them enjoy this moment.

“These guys grow up wanting to be professional ball players, and this is their night to be a professional ball player. And what a better way to do it than the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia.”

The Panthers and Mountaineers have met once this season, a 5-4 WVU win in Morgantown. 

Now Pitt’s players will look for some retribution. 

“That’s just icing on the cake for us,” junior pitcher Dan Hammer said of getting to play the Mountaineers. “We’re definitely looking for some revenge on those guys. They’ve had our number so far this year, but we’re looking to take this game.

“We’re obviously very excited. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to all season. To play at a venue like PNC Park is just going to be great. To represent the University of Pittsburgh, in the heart of the city, is going to be really cool.”

West Virginia will provide a stiff test to the Panthers, as the Mountaineers are currently ranked 17th  in the nation and enter with a 31-18 record. 

Injuries and a slow start have resulted in the Panthers’ 20-31 record. But Pitt has reversed course its last 12 games, going 8-4, including this past weekend’s series victory over No. 11 North Carolina. 

“As a whole we’ve been playing a lot better,” sophomore reliever Chase Smith said. “It was cool to just watch us click, as a group, and really make it all come together. We knew we were capable of doing something like that.”

Smith is hoping to finally be on the positive side of the rivalry.

“I’ve played them three times since I’ve been here and they’ve beaten us all three times,” he said. “It’s called the Backyard Brawl, so that’s pretty cool. It would be awesome to come out on top in this one.”

Despite the long absence from PNC Park, Pitt baseball has a strong relationship with the Pirates’ organization. Dr. Patrick Demeo, an orthopedic surgeon who works with the Pirates, was a frequent attendee at Pitt baseball games, as his son, P.J. was a four-year member of Pitt’s team. 

Bell, meanwhile, has ties to Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington, who was the Assistant Director of Player Development with the Expos when Montreal drafted Bell, a former pitcher, in 1995. 

“Our relationship with the Pirates, it’s genuine,” Bell said. “Scott Mitchell is a former roommate of mine and he’s in their developmental program with their pitching prospects. They bring over their pitchers here, in January, to use our facilities. And that’s a great thing for our guys to see.”

Ultimately, the experience may be best for players like Pitt center fielder Connor Perry, a Norwin graduate, and right fielder Nico Popa, a Seton-LaSalle graduate.

“I’m definitely excited,” said Popa, who enters the game hitting .352 with 35 RBI. “I grew up a Pirates fan, so I always went to games at PNC Park. So now, to be able to play there is a cool opportunity. It’s just going to be cool to get to play on the same field as all these great professional players have played on. Guys we’ve looked up to our entire lives, and now we’re in that exact same spot as them.”

Tickets for the game are $10 for general admission, with various discounts available for Pirates season ticket holders, Pitt and WVU alumni, faculty and students. They may be purchased through the Pirates’ website or at the gate. 

Hear more from Pitt coach Mike Bell below.