Patty Piroli’s been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since childhood when she and her late grandfather, Walter Lowry, would listen to Bob Prince broadcast play-by-play action on the radio.
When she was a teenager, she’d walk to games from her home on Mount Washington to former Three Rivers Stadium on the city’s North Shore. She’d take the Mon Incline, cross the Smithfield Street Bridge, cut across the Mon Wharf and then cross the Fort Duquesne Bridge.
Her family knew an usher at the stadium who’d give her a ride home.
In 1979, the same year she graduated from South Hills High School and the Pirates won their fifth World Series Championship, she cheered the Bucs at one of the National League playoff games against the Cincinnati Reds, watching such greats as Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Phil Garner, Jim Rooker, John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve.
Stellar players but, over years of following the club’s roster, one outshines them all in her eyes: Andrew McCutchen, a Pirates outfielder for nine years until traded Jan. 15 to the San Francisco Giants.
Certainly, his athleticism stands out: five-time All-Star; four-time Silver Slugger Award; Gold Glove Award in 2012; National League Most Valuable Player in 2013; Roberto Clemente Award in 2015.
McCutchen could do it all — hit, run, throw, steal bases.
But more important to Patty, who now lives in Brighton Township, it’s his deep faith and spirituality.
And McCutchen, a minister’s son, isn’t reticent to display it, she said.
He kneels in prayer on the field. Shared testimony at Pirates’ Faith Nights and literally wore his faith on his sleeve — and wrists: terry cloth bands in Pirates black and gold embroidered with crosses.
And that’s how she and “Cutch,” as she calls him, bonded.
‘He’s just so awesome’
Patty, 57, calls her family — husband, Mike; daughters Nikki Piroli and Maria Thomas and husband, Troy, and their daughter, Peyton, 4 — “Pirates geeks.”
“We’re all Pirates fans — Pittsburgh fans,” she quickly added, as they root for the Steelers and Penguins, too.
She and Nikki, who’s also an usher at PNC Park, attend at least 10 games a season.
And Patty organizes a game night every year for members of her church — Christian Assembly in Ohioville.
When she’s not at the ballpark, Patty watches games on TV and follows McCutchen on Twitter. That’s how they connected.
He posted (Patty thinks it was last May) this: “Does anyone know of anybody who can make me another one of these?” along with a picture of his signature wristband. From constant use, the band had become so stretched, he was wearing it on his biceps, Patty said.
“I knew I could get them,” she said, and promptly ordered four on eBay — two gold, two black — and then took them to C&S Sports in Beaver to have black crosses embroidered on gold bands, gold crosses on black.
She mailed them to the Pirates front office, and soon thereafter McCutchen messaged Patty: “I believe you were the one to send me these!!! Thank you so much! Amazing!”
But that’s not all, though she was initially reluctant to talk about it because her gift was genuine, not quid pro quo.
A box arrived at her house. Inside was a pair of McCutchen’s cleats signed, “To Patty. Andrew McCutchen.”
“I was totally shocked,” Patty said. “I was just trying to be nice. It all started because I wanted to be nice. I didn’t expect anything in return. He needed them, and I wanted to do it. He’s just so awesome. I just did it out of the goodness of my heart.”
McCutchen’s kindness was another home run in Patty’s book, especially today when many athletes won’t even take time to sign autographs for fans.
“He’s just so awesome,” repeated Patty, who works at Noll Funeral Home in Beaver as an assistant secretary and multimedia specialist. “He’s just so faithful. He prays. I have pictures of him on both teams kneeling to pray. He’s just an all-around good guy.”
She regards him so highly that the night before this interview, she reached out to McCutchen to make sure he was OK with it.
“No worries. Thanks for asking,” he wrote back.
Patty displays McCutchen’s shoes on a bookshelf in her home. Husband Mike, whom she met playing softball in a church league, tells people jokingly that the cleats replaced their wedding picture.
This day, Patty wears a Pirates shirt, black with gold “P” and “22,” McCutchen’s number. It’s just been the past few years that she added a player’s shirt to her wardrobe.
She hated to choose.
“Every time I’d pick one, they traded them,” she said. With McCutchen, however, she said she felt “safe.”
McCutchen stole more than bases. He stole hearts of many Pirates fans, including Patty.
She’ll never forget the day his trade to the Giants was announced.
“It was heartbreaking. I was angry. I was hurt,” she said.
“He was such a good influence, I think, on young people. I do think (Pirates management) were just crazy for trading him. He was such a good role model, an inspiration. He reached out. He was good for the city. He was just the face of the Pirates.”
Immediately, she tweeted McCutchen.
“I wrote to him, ‘This is a sad day, but I’m already looking for new wristbands.’”
But this time in Giants colors — orange with black crosses; black with orange crosses. They arrived in time for spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.
And another shout-out tweet to Patty from McCutchen “for taking care of me once again!!!”
Some fans, so outraged that McCutchen was let go, plan to boycott the Pirates.
“I don’t want to help the owners, but you still have to support Josh Bell, support the rest of the team,” she said.
She and Nikki already have tickets for a three-game series in May, the first and only time the Pirates will face the Giants at home this season.
Their seats are in the first section of the outfield for the May 11 game.
“We’re right there,” Patty said.
McCutchen and Patty never met face to face — “that would have been awesome” — so she wonders if she should make a sign that says “I’m the wristband girl,” but knows the Pirates are “real strict about stuff like that.”
Still, she has something else in mind that might get McCutchen’s attention.
Nikki designed shirts in black that blend both teams’ names and colors: “PIRANTS” on one side; “McCutchen 22″ on the other. The “PIR” and half the “A” are in gold; the “A’s” other half and “NTS” are in orange. Likewise with “McCutchen 22.”
The Pirolis remain loyal “Cutch” fans.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s here or not,” Patty said.