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Penguins Spend the Day Bonding During Batting Practice at PNC Park

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins forwards Maxime Talbot and Mike Rupp struck up a friendship with former Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman and Upper St. Clair native Sean Casey when the trio joined Penguins and Pirates team chaplain Brad Henderson for a trip to Haiti in late August.

Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (right) chats with Penguins forward Chris Kunitz behind the batting cage at PNC Park.
During that trip, Talbot and Rupp lobbied Casey for the chance to take batting practice at PNC Park. Thanks to Casey’s connections, that day came on Wednesday as Talbot and Rupp were joined at PNC Park by Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Chris Kunitz and Paul Martin.

“I went down to Haiti with Rupper and Max Talbot,” Casey said. “We struck up a friendship. They said they wanted to come to PNC Park to hit. I was able to make that happen. They told a lot of the guys and a bunch of them came.”

On an afternoon when several Penguins showed off either a smooth hitting swing or soft hands defensively, it was Crosby who managed to shine the brightest.

During his second session in the cage, Crosby turned on an inside pitch and ripped a shot 370 feet over the Clemente Wall in right field for a mammoth home run that left even Pirates rookies second baseman and Pine-Richland native Neil Walker impressed.

“He obviously has some serious hand-eye coordination,” Walker said. “I think he would catch on pretty quickly. He is a natural athlete. That was quite a shot right there. That was all of 360-370 feet. That’s some serious strength there’s no doubt about that.”

Crosby wasn’t the only Penguin to put on a hitting display as several of his teammates also starred. Rupp, who played baseball until high school, was spraying the ball with power from gap to gap, while Talbot and Fleury were consistently driving balls right back up the middle of the diamond.

Maxime Talbot sends a shot up the middle during batting practice on Wednesday.
“You have to say that Sid was the best because he hit one out, but Rupper is a pretty big guy and he was hitting with some good power,” Kunitz said. “Paul Martin went up and had a smooth swing. I think we have a few guys on the team who are quite athletic and looked pretty good up there.”

Defensively, Martin, Fleury and Cooke showed some promise with the glove, but it was Kunitz who made the web gem of the afternoon.

The Penguins wanted to shag balls from a major leaguer, so the switch-hitting Walker stepped in and obliged. On Walker’s final swing, with many of the Penguins playfully taunting him to hit a home run, he drilled a ball to the 383’ sign in left field and appeared to have himself a dinger when out of nowhere Kunitz appeared to snag the ball away before it could land over the fence.

“I’m not real happy about that,” Walker laughed later. “If it comes close to being a home run you have to let it go.”

“It wasn’t going out because I was on the warning track,” Kunitz retorted. “It was one of those things where you don’t know how far the ball is going to travel when you are out there for fun. It seemed like a lot of us were making catches like that over our heads.”

Whether it was catching balls over their heads, diving at balls in the hope of robbing each other of hits or attempting to turn double plays, the Penguins definitely had themselves quite an afternoon at PNC Park on Thursday. When they were done the players had nothing but good things to say about Casey and the Pirates for allowing them the chance to visit the ballpark.

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“It was a nice day to get out here with the guys and kind of get to know them a bit,” said Martin, who signed with Pittsburgh in July. “I had a really great time getting to hit and I thank the Pirates for that. Having the chance to come out here and shag balls with the guys brought back memories of playing as a kid.”

Mike Rupp is all smiles as he walks onto the field at PNC Park.
“Sean Casey gave us a chance to come out here together before the season started and allowed us a chance to just be ‘the boys’ together on a nice day like this,” Kunitz said. “There is something special about America’s Pastime and getting to come out and play on a beautiful field like this.”

Casey and Walker said that the pleasure was theirs because they enjoyed getting to spend the day with players from another professional sport that they admire watching as fellow Pittsburghers.

“It’s fun when you play one professional sport to come out and get to appreciate and enjoy another professional sport,” Casey said. “I think that is what those guys got to do coming down to a beautiful ballpark like PNC Park and taking swings.”

“Ever since I was a little kid I have been a huge Penguins fan,” Walker added. “To have them come out here today and to meet them was pretty cool. I take a lot of pride in being a Pittsburgh sports fan, so to see that these guys are really great guys who take a lot of pride in what they do is very cool.”

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