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12/15/12 8:22 PM ET

Front office handles tough questions at PirateFest

PITTSBURGH -- Saturday afternoon's Ask Pirates Management session with at-large fans was slightly more confrontational than it had been Friday night, when season-ticket holders comprised the audience grilling club president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle.

Fans asked provocative questions about the team's player-development philosophy, and the role of controversial military-style training in it. The three club representatives were prepared with patient, thoughtful and detailed responses, occasionally impressively so.

For instance, one gentleman cited the apparent contradiction of stressing player-development yet having it run by two men -- assistant GM Kyle Stark and Larry Broadway, director of Minor League operations -- "with no experience in player development."

After defending the qualifications of Stark and Broadway, Huntington asked the fan for his choice of MLB's best player-development program. When he quickly picked Tampa Bay, Huntington said, without skipping a beat, "Mitch Lukevics, who runs their system, had no prior experience with that. Some people have training in their background, others get very good at it on the job."

When "that Navy SEALS training" was brought up, Coonelly responded, to loud applause: "We'll never apologize for any affiliation with the United Stated military in our mental conditioning."

"That said," Coonelly continued, "we don't actually have SEALS people involved, just some of their techniques that have been used with overwhelming success by numerous industries and athletic teams. We're teaching Minor Leaguers how to push through the grind, and somehow that's a bad thing? We want the next generation of Pittsburgh Pirates to be able to get through a 162-game season and bring the championship that you deserve back to this city."

Ask the Pirates Hour is highlight of PirateFest

PITTSBURGH -- PirateFest is an offseason baseball-palooza, turning the David L. Lawrence Convention Center into a mall-midway-arcade mashup. Fans can rig out their black-and-gold wardrobe, throw beanbags, hit baseballs, scratch their baseball itch and play games. Lots of games.

But on the same stage which for two days has hosted such audience-participation fare as Buccos-themed Deal or no Deal, Card Sharks and We Are Fam-A-Lee Feud, the most entertaining bit was Saturday's Ask The Pirates Hour.

Each of the 15 players attending the event answered questions from an overflow audience, most of them by adorable younger fans. Some of the questions were even borderline serious. The majority were just clever and fun, setting up a laugh party.


• As Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown introduced the players walking on stage, the loudest cheers, by far, were for Michael McKenry. The Fort owns Pittsburgh.

• The most questions went to A.J. Burnett, whose tattooed persona -- and pitching -- clearly has connected with his adopted city.

• Asked who among the players was best at dancing Gangnam style, everyone quickly pointed to Jared Hughes, forced to rise and show off some moves while he pleaded, "I really don't know what I'm doing."

• Hughes, the 6-foot-7 no-longer-rookie right-hander, was repeatedly picked on because of his size and on-mound ferocity. Samples: "If you fought a bear, who would win?" "What would you rather fight, a duck-sized horse or a horse-sized duck?"

• The players were asked to identify their favorite NFL team, and when the microphone reached Josh Harrison he said, "I'm from Cincinnati, therefore I do not have a favorite team." The Bengals and the Steelers have a showdown upcoming next Sunday at Heinz Field.

• Kid to A.J.: "My 11th birthday is coming up Christmas Eve and I want to get a tattoo. What should I get?" A.J. to kid: "Get one of those you put on with a napkin and can wipe off a half hour later."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.