CHICAGO — Eight players violated the dress-code policy for team travel Thursday night, but Pirates management didn’t put up much of a fuss. In fact, it’s safe to say the Pirates’ brass took great pleasure in it.
Outfielder Matt Stairs masterminded the annual rite of fall known as the rookie initiation prank. After the Pirates concluded a 3-1 victory over the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, the eight players returned to the clubhouse to discover their street clothes had been replaced by items purchased at a costume store.
Mike Gonzalez found a banana costume in his locker. Carlos Rivera was greeted by a Sponge Bob Square Pants costume. John Grabow had to wear a cheerleader outfit. Fittingly, a pirate costume was handed to J.R. House, the newest Pirates player. Jason Bay was given a Spiderman costume after he couldn’t wiggle into a cowgirl outfit.
The best outfits, however, were reserved for Duaner Sanchez, Tike Redman and J.J. Davis.
Sanchez wore a two-piece navy blue genie outfit that exposed his navel. He also sported an overblown 1970s-style Afro wig. Redman wore an authentic bride’s dress, complete with a lengthy train and headdress.
Davis had to wear a collage of items, including fairy wings on his back, a gladiator’s shield on his chest, a top hat and floppy clown shoes.
“He was the hardest guy to find something for,” Stairs said. “I was going to make him wear the wedding dress and have Tike dress up as a flower girl, but when you’re 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, you’re not going to find a wedding dress that size.”
Thus, the wedding dress went to Redman, and Davis had to settle for leftovers.
“It was a mixture because we couldn’t find anything that fit him,” Stairs said.
The players had to wear the “clothes” all the way from New York until they checked into their downtown hotel in Chicago. As the team bus neared the hotel, it pulled over, and the rookies were told to walk the final two blocks, which they did.
“They were very professional about it,” Stairs said. “They all had fun with it.”
Stairs said he had been working on his stunt for a month. He purchased all of the items in Pittsburgh and packed them in storage for the final road trip.
“I’ve been doing that for years,” he said. “When you’re the oldest guy on the team, you can do whatever you want.”
SANDERS STILL SIDELINED
Manager Lloyd McClendon had been holding out hope that outfielder Reggie Sanders could return for this series. But Sanders was not in the scheduled lineup yesterday because of his strained left oblique injury. He remains doubtful for the doubleheader today and the season finale Sunday.
“I hope by some miracle he can get out there,” McClendon said.
What about the possibility of using Sanders as a late-inning, pinch-hitting secret weapon?
“That would be great,” McClendon said. “It would be nice to have him available in the eighth and ninth innings. We just don’t know yet if that’s possible.”
I TOLD YOU SO
On Sept. 2, McClendon predicted the Pirates would have a say in determining either the NL wild-card team or the NL Central champion. Prior to that, he thought the NL Central champ would finish with 88 wins. The Cubs and Astros entered yesterday with 86.
“I haven’t lied to you guys yet,” McClendon said, laughing.
McClendon grew up in nearby Gary, Ind. He’s a hometown product who wants to make good, even if that plan could backfire on him.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he said. “If we knock the Cubs out, they’ll be ready to kill me.”
No matter what happens today, McClendon is glad he decided to have Salomon Torres and Ryan Vogelsong switch spots in the rotation. Torres won his second consecutive start Thursday night by holding the Mets to one run in 6 2/3 innings.
Torres is the more experienced pitcher. But had he started today, he would have pitched on his eighth day, three more than normal.
“I couldn’t see how he’d possibly be sharp,” McClendon said. “To me, going with Vogelsong made more sense.”