Penguins All-Star winger James Neal shot a puck Monday night. Except instead of being on ice, he was on grass.
In a twist on the baseball tradition of throwing out the first pitch, Neal “shot the first puck” at Peoples Natural Gas Field, home of the Class AA Altoona Curve.
Rather than throwing a baseball to the catcher at home plate, as is the usual custom, Neal shot a puck off a board at home plate to a kid wearing goaltending gear. The change was both unique and welcomed by Neal.
“It was a little different,” Neal said. “Thankfully, I wasn’t throwing the ball because I don’t think I would have gotten it there. It was something different and it was fun.”
Neal, who was presented with a special Altoona Curve hockey jersey with the No. 18 and “Neal” across the back, appeared on the Curve’s pregame show and signed autographs for two hours for eager Penguins fans in attendance.
“It’s crazy, no matter where you are you will always find Penguins fans,” he said. “I found that out pretty fast in Pittsburgh. It’s great. It shows how crazy they are about hockey in Pittsburgh.”
The Curve, the minor-league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, have hosted Penguins players in the past. Matt Cooke visited the ballpark last year while Pascal Dupuis threw out the first pitch two years ago.
“I definitely watch the Pirates,” Neal said. “And I watch the Blue Jays, being in Toronto. That’s where I am all summer. I definitely see a lot of baseball.”