CHICAGO -- While the pomp and circumstance surrounding Opening Day always makes for a unique occasion, Friday's season opener against the Cubs held a bit of added significance for a number of players on the Pirates' 25-man roster.
A total of eight Pirates are in the Majors on Opening Day for the first time in their careers. That group includes Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Josh Rodriguez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Michael Crotta, James McDonald and Garrett Olson. Neither Crotta, nor Rodriguez, had ever been on a Major League roster before.
"I'm excited," said Tabata, before reaching base twice in the Pirates' 6-3 win over Chicago. "It's something that for every baseball player is very important -- that you know that Opening Day you will be with the team. You have been waiting all your life to play on Opening Day."
Added Pearce: "I have been fighting for this spot since '08. Three years later, it's going to mean the world to me. It's everything I wanted."
Alvarez, Walker and Tabata -- all three of whom solidified themselves as starters last season -- were in manager Clint Hurdle's starting lineup. None of the three had a bigger day than Walker, whose fifth-inning grand slam turned a two-run deficit into a two-run lead for the club.
Alvarez finished 0-for-4 and committed a costly throwing error. Tabata went 1-for-4 with a walk. Neither Pearce, nor Rodriguez, were called in to pinch-hit. Olson allowed a hit and struck out one in one-third of an inning out of the 'pen.
"Obviously, it's special," Alvarez said. "But it's also just another day for playing baseball. Every day that comes by, you live in the present. But definitely it's exciting to start the year with the ballclub."
With so many Opening Day first-timers, it's no wonder that the Pirates have one of their youngest rosters in recent years. The average age of the club is 27.6. Since 2001, Pittsburgh has opened the season with a lower average age only twice. That was in 2007 (27.1) and 2009 (27.4).
Correia turns in strong Opening Day start
CHICAGO -- The Pirates have preached the importance of improved starting pitching all spring, and Kevin Correia stepped up big in that regard to ensure that the club's 2011 season got going in the right direction.
The conditions were less than ideal throughout the Pirates' 6-3 win over the Cubs on Friday. With a first-pitch temperature of 41 degrees and a constant rain, Correia had the added challenge of pitching off a slick mound in what was the first Opening Day start of his career.
"It was hard to really locate with the mound the way it was, so I think I did a really good job just not letting myself throw balls down the middle," said Correia, who joked that the weather might have been a good distraction to calm his nerves. "When I missed, I missed off the plate so they weren't able to square balls. It was tough sliding around out there."
Correia scattered seven hits -- all singles -- in the six-inning effort. He easily could have gone an inning longer, too, had the defense not stumbled a few times behind him. Pedro Alvarez's first-inning throwing error led to an early unearned run. There were also a pair of muffed popups and some ground balls up the middle that might have been double plays in better conditions.
None of it fazed Correia, however, as he efficiently worked his way out of trouble. The right-hander was especially sharp in the middle innings, retiring 10 of 11 beginning with the final out of the third. He threw 61 of his 92 pitches for strikes.
"I was throwing the ball well," Correia said. "They got a couple of runs on tough conditions out there. I knew coming into this game with the rain, and whatever else we were dealing with, it wasn't just going to be a clean game."
Hurdle expects hard work, fundamental play
CHICAGO -- Expectations aren't a topic that manager Clint Hurdle likes to spend much time on. But when the discussion turns to conditioning and work ethic, be sure that Hurdle has made his expectations known.
Following a spring that many players noted was as intense of a camp as they had ever been a part of, the work isn't going to stop. The focus on fundamentals will continue to be a regular part of the players' pregame preparation, and extra early work will be required as is needed.
"At this level, to be successful you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable," Hurdle said. "And when you can physically condition to the best of your ability -- every player is different -- that goes hand-in-hand with your mental toughness. You can't get to the point where you're tired and say, 'I'm tired.' No, you have to push through that. That's how you build endurance. Our guys have built their share of endurance."
Though the work continues, Hurdle expressed satisfaction with the effort put in so far.
"They have worked so hard," Hurdle said. "One of the challenges that we put out there is that we're going to be the best conditioned team in the National League when we break camp. There might be a team in as good of condition, but I'd be hard-pressed to think there is one in better condition."
James McDonald joined his teammates at Wrigley Field on Friday after traveling north from Bradenton, Fla., where he pitched in an intrasquad game on Thursday. McDonald reaffirmed that he is ready to make his first regular-season start, which will come in St. Louis on Tuesday. ... The Pirates are scheduled to face six right-handed starters on this six-game road trip, but that will not keep Matt Diaz out of the lineup. Manager Clint Hurdle said he plans to have Diaz start one game in Chicago and another in St. Louis so that the outfielder isn't stuck idly on the bench for the next week. Diaz will be the club's regular right fielder against left-handed starters. ... Catcher Jason Jaramillo is also expected to start in one of the club's two remaining games in Chicago. ... The Pirates' Opening Day lineup on Friday included four of the same nine players that were in it a year ago. Those players were Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Ryan Doumit and Ronny Cedeno. ... With his start on Friday, Pedro Alvarez became the first left-handed-hitting third baseman to start for the Pirates since Richie Hebner in 1976.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.