Cruising around Pittsburgh’s three rivers on a beautiful boat before taking batting practice at the gorgeous PNC Park.
Not a bad Thursday, eh?
That’s what this year’s top prospects did for today’s media tour leading up to the 2012 NHL Draft, which will be hosted at CONSOL Energy Center on Friday and Saturday.
I got to follow them around for the second straight day. Here’s what happened.
I’M ON A BOAT
Every year, the 10-15 top prospects that are selected to do the customary media availability session the day before the draft typically speak to reporters in a downtown hotel.
This year, the Penguins arranged for the players to board the “Empress” of the Gateway Clipper Fleet to do their media availability session, ensuring that the prospects would get to experience Pittsburgh in one of the best ways possible.
The Gateway Clipper is the No. 1 non-sports attraction in Pittsburgh. It cruises the three rivers – Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio – and provides wonderful views of downtown and North Shore, including Heinz Field, PNC Park and all the bridges that are everywhere in our city.
The prospects and the media got to enjoy lunch in an air-conditioned dining room before trekking up to the deck of the riverboat to do interviews. Chairs lined the perimeter of the area, with a player’s name on a sign standing next to each one.
Now, a few of the guys got in early and did another media tour on Wednesday that included a scrimmage camp at the Ice Castle, a dek hockey game at the Roberto Clemente Bridge and a trip up to Mt. Washington to recreate Mario Lemieux’s famous draft-year photo.
So those guys – Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Grigorenko and Jacob Trouba – have already gotten a feel for Pittsburgh. But for most of the other players, the boat ride was their introduction to the city.
And even though the heat wave that’s smothered our city the last few days didn’t go anywhere on Thursday, the prospects all agreed that it was a great way to get acclimated.
“It’s hot out here. Everyone’s sweating. Everyone’s greasy,” said Matt Dumba with a laugh. “I know I’m going to have to go back and take a cold shower. But this is still awesome. I never would have thought of this, and it’s an amazing experience.”
After lunch and interviews, the “Empress” dropped us off right at PNC Park.
Talk about curbside service.
Yakupov playfully tossed water at the geese
Yakupov snaps a photo of the welcoming committee
Prospects that partook in the boat ride
After Yakupov stopped to scare a flock of geese that greeted us on the sidewalk, we slowly made our way into the ballpark (the prospects stopped to take pictures by the Bill Mazeroski statue before we got inside, and we kept getting honked at by the Just Ducky Tours busses that passed us. Quack! Quack! Quack!).
After the players discarded their polos and khakis in favor of T-shirts and shorts, they got to meet Pirates general manager Clint Hurdle and joke around with him a little bit before heading to the plate. Everybody laughed when the Pirates coach throwing the pitches reminded the prospects that Sidney Crosby had hit a home run in this very ballpark.
Yakupov kicked things off, and handled his first-ever at-bat (he’s a lefty, just in case you were wondering) with his trademark enthusiasm and vivacity – and bare feet.
After whiffing on the first pitch, he hit the second, hit the third and decided to run to first – except he went the wrong way, beelining straight ahead to second base instead.
Once the crowd alerted him of his error, Yakupov quickly changed direction and cut to first base. It was quite an entertaining stint at the plate, and one that affirmed he should probably stick with hockey.
“It was great,” he said of his experience. “It was my first time playing baseball. I thought it would be easier, but it’s so tough. But I hit the ball a couple times, so I’m excited. But I’m not good in baseball.”
Afterward, Yakupov opted to go into the field (behind the netting protecting the pitcher) and chirp his fellow prospects a little bit.
Galchenyuk was next to go, and he didn’t fare much better than his Sarnia Sting teammate. However, Trouba changed all that when he went up to bat.
He told me yesterday he had played baseball until ninth grade, and I know from talking with him he’s a huge Detroit Tigers fan (we bonded over that since we’re both from Michigan. On the shuttle home, he got me up to speed on theTigers’ pitching situation).
The right-handed batter was at the plate a lot longer than his fellow prospects since he kept sending them deep into the outfield. He maybe missed two or three pitches out of probably 20 total.
Forsberg also played baseball growing up in Sweden – he told me he had to give it up about five years ago to focus on hockey. He fared pretty well at bat, especially considering all the people watching him and Yakupov yelling at him from the field, “Come on, Swede!”
While Rielly, Murray and Grigorenko all took their turns, Trouba said he wanted to go again to try and hit it off the wall – he’d definitely come close in his first turn with a couple of bombs to right field. So all seven of the guys went again.
Unfortunately, though, none of them came away with home runs.
“It was a disappointing day,” joked Trouba, adding that he shouldn’t have been surprised he didn’t hit one over the wall because he used to bat ninth when he played – the position usually reserved for less-than-stellar hitters.
“There was no home run, but that’s some textbook hitting,” he said. “That’s what you’re looking for. I was usually batting the nine spot, back in the day when I had to miss a lot for hockey. So I’m used to it.”
But all in all, they enjoyed getting to experience the beautiful PNC Park – especially since a lot of them had never visited a Major League Baseball stadium before.
The Pirates welcomed the prospects to their stadium
The prospects meet Pirates general manager Clint Hurdle
Yakupov batted barefoot
Trouba sent some bombs into the outfield, but didn't get a home run
Yakupov shagging balls in the infield. Hilarious
Yakupov caught mid-throw
Hurdle watches batting practice
Galchenyuk and Grigorenko in the Pirates clubhouse
Galchenyuk and Yakupov by the Bill Mazeroski statue
The next time these prospects address the media, they’ll belong to an NHL organization. And they can’t believe the moment they've been waiting for – being drafted – is just 24 hours away.
“It’s pretty crazy. It’s hard to explain,” smiled Dumba, his excitement readily apparent. “I guess I’m like a little kid on Christmas, just waiting. I know I probably won’t sleep tonight. I guess it’s just a mix of emotions. I’m kind of nervous, but I’ve kind of gotten over that and I just want to enjoy the whole experience and just take it all in.”
Stay tuned for all the coverage of the 2012 NHL Draft on pittsburghpenguins.com.