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READY FREDDY


READY FREDDY
Two positives are sure to emerge from the opening of PirateFest today:

1. Freddy Sanchez will feel no pain in that nagging right shoulder when he signs autographs.

2. He will be able to see all the way to the end of the line.

"I'm feeling good, really good," the Pirates' second baseman said yesterday. "Obviously, I wasn't right all of last year, but I'm excited right now."

Not fully in the clear, though.

Sanchez is one of 19 current and former players at the 19th annual PirateFest, which opens to the general public at 5 p.m. (season-ticketholders may enter at 4 p.m.) at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. He has made progress with the shoulder and a blurry eye that surely caused his average to dip to .271 last season. But questions remain on each front.

With the shoulder, which had a frequently inflamed rotator cuff, Sanchez reports "no pain at all" through his throwing program and weight lifting, but acknowledges that neither regimen has reached its offseason peak yet.

"We'll see how it does when I increase the throwing," he said. "The hitting never was really the issue. It was more about things like turning the double play."

Proof that the hitting was unaffected: Sanchez batted .346 after the All-Star break, fourth highest in the National League.

The eye is more of an unknown.

The blurriness is the lingering result of a foreign object, perhaps a tiny piece of metal, that entered his right eye during a game in April 2007. Doctors attempted to address it last season with drops, but the effect was limited. So, this offseason for the first time, Sanchez is wearing contact lenses, even though his vision was near-perfect before the incident. That has helped, he said.

"I've lost some vision, and it's kind of frustrating," Sanchez said. "But it's something we're trying to get figured out before spring training."

That will include another visit to a specialist next week.

PirateFest could present its own challenge, if much smaller, for those associated with the team.

Management has made one major league addition -- the free-agent signing of utility infielder Ramon Vazquez -- to a roster that went 67-95 in 2008 for a 16th consecutive losing season. That included 17-37 after the trades of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.

What message can be sent to the 15,000 or so expected to attend?

"It's tough to give a positive message when we haven't been performed well on the field," Sanchez said. "Until we show something ? that's when the fans will come out and support us even more. I mean, the fans have been unbelievable, and that's why I love Pittsburgh so much. But we have to do our part. That's the only message we can send. Enough talk. Obviously, we know we have the same exact team we had in the second half, but it's up to us to perform."

Centerfielder Nate McLouth, another participant, spoke of hope.

"At this point, everybody's optimistic. Every team is that way," he said. "Obviously, there were some unpopular moves made last year. That kind of goes without saying. But what I'm looking forward to is seeing what Brandon Moss can do for a full season. Or a healthy Andy LaRoche. To me, that's why I'm excited. They brought in some pretty darned good pieces when they shipped those two guys out."

Tough questions often come during the fan QA sessions with management -- there will be one tonight, another tomorrow -- and general manager Neal Huntington said he welcomes that.

"It's great for us to get the opportunity to reinforce that there is a vision, there is a plan in place," Huntington said. "We do acknowledge the fans' frustration. And, while we are not responsible for 15 of the 16 years, we do own them. And we hear the fans' passion. As we turn this around, PNC Park is going to be an electric place to be because of those fans. It's one of the driving forces to doing this right."

The Pirates will unveil their new alternate uniform this afternoon at a media luncheon, then to the PirateFest crowd at 6:45 p.m.

b> PIRATEFEST

/b>

* What: 19th annual PirateFest.

* Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

* When: 5-9 p.m., today; noon-8 p.m. tomorrow; 11 a.m.-4-p.m. Sunday. Season-ticket holders can enter an hour early today and Sunday.

* Tickets: $10 for adults, free for children 14 and under.

* Autographs today: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Doug Drabek, 4-5:30 p.m.; Sean Burnett, Nyjer Morgan and Omar Moreno, 5:30-7 p.m.; Nate McLouth, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Ohlendorf, 7-8:30 p.m.

* Autographs tomorrow: Ryan Doumit, Matt Capps, Ohlendorf and Moreno, noon-1:30 p.m.; Jeff Karstens, McLouth and Drabek, 1:30-3 p.m.; Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Dave Parker, 3-4:30 p.m.; Freddy Sanchez, Andy LaRoche and Burnett, 4:30-6 p.m.; John Grabow, Jay Bell and Maholm, 6-7:30 p.m.

* Autographs Sunday: Doumit, LaRoche and Parker, 10-11:30 a.m.; Sanchez, Karstens and Walker, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Capps, Gorzelanny and Morgan, 1-2:30 p.m.; Grabow, McCutchen and Bell, 2:30-4 p.m.

* QA sessions: Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington and John Russell, 7-8 p.m. today and 4-5 p.m. tomorrow; players and coaches, 3-4 p.m. tomorrow.

* Youth clinics: Russell, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, hitting coach Don Long and third base coach Tony Beasley, 6-7 p.m. tomorrow, noon-1 p.m. Sunday.

* Charity: Fans who bring a non-perishable food item to the Pirates Charities booth will get a free poster and 2009 schedule.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 23, 2009

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