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Penguins play wiffle ball to honor Pirates' playoff run

by Wes Crosby /

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have made 16 Stanley Cup Playoff appearances in the 21 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates, who will face the Cincinnati Reds in the National League wild-card game Tuesday, last played in Major League Baseball's postseason.

The magnitude of Pittsburgh’s baseball team snapping its playoff drought, MLB's second-longest behind the Kansas City Royals' 27-year absence, was not lost on the Penguins, who played a post-practice game of wiffle ball on Consol Energy Center's ice to celebrate the occasion Tuesday.

That's right -- a game of wiffle ball, with a spray-painted pitcher's mound, bases and batter's boxes on the same ice where two games of last season's Eastern Conference Final took place.

"[Playing baseball on ice] doesn't feel anything like it feels on grass," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, a former catcher, said. "No slides, number one, and it's pretty tough to play wiffle ball on the ice. I've never really done that before."

The players donned Pirates playoff T-shirts while coach Dan Bylsma wore a No. 21 Pirates jersey, the number worn by Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. Chris Kunitz's two-run home run over the right-field glass gave Crosby's Team Black a 3-0 win against Evgeni Malkin's Team White.

"Whatever team I was on was the one that won," defenseman Paul Martin said. "It was wiffle ball, but it was a lot of fun. We had a lot of American guys, I think that was the deciding factor."

The game's most polarizing moment came in the top of the third inning, when Crosby stepped to the plate with Malkin pitching, the bases loaded and two outs. Malkin, after striking out two batters, got Crosby to pop out on a 2-2 count to end the inning and laughed as he nudged Crosby, evoking a wide smile from the captain.

"I think we have a few guys going [to the Pirates game]," Crosby said. "The rest of us will be watching it. I'll definitely be watching, but from what I've heard, a lot of guys will be tuning in."

Bylsma, who attended his press conference wearing a Pirates hat and the Clemente jersey, will be one of those in attendance at PNC Park.

"I'm all set to go," Bylsma said. "I've got my seat and I'll be at the match tonight. I haven't decided what color face paint I'm going with.

"I played more baseball than hockey growing up. I necessarily didn't think I'd be a pro hockey player, so I probably did dream of being a professional baseball player, winning the World Series and hitting the home run."

The city of Pittsburgh has rallied around the Pirates, and the Penguins realize this day belongs to the city's baseball team. Forward Pascal Dupuis skated onto the ice before practice wearing a Pirates batting helmet, while the coaches wore Pirates playoff hats. Most notably, bases were set up in the Penguins' locker room, while a large Jolly Roger hung from its ceiling.

The Pirates will play the Reds in a one-game playoff, which can be compared to a Game 7 in hockey -- just without Games 1-6. The Penguins players couldn't comprehend what it would be like to be in that situation, but Crosby offered some advice.

"I think you just have to be your best at this point in time," he said. "It's hard to treat it like a normal game because it's not, but I think you just try to do that and I think that's what's got them this far. So I'm sure they'll find a way to pull it out."

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