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Dunlap: Home Opener Is Always Extra Special

It was its own sort of Black Sea.

Deep, seemingly bottomless and unending, Federal Street on Monday just before 1 p.m. clogged and overflowed with patrons on their way into the Pirates home opener, many donning black shirts. It was a swarm and mass of bodies, a jam-packed Pirates party.

If anyone ever doubted how much our city of Pittsburgh loved baseball, this was the place to be. This was the scene that proved, if there were any naysayers left, that Pittsburgh was absolutely in love with these Pirates.

Men drank beer and cackled, regaling each other with stories of how far this franchise has come. This wasn't anymore a place to tell stories about what this club could be or once was, but rather a place to talk about what they were in the present.

Children --- many unquestionably playing hooky --- milled around Federal Street in anticipation of seeing their hometown team play. For them, for the young ones, this is a hometown team they are too young to remember was once a laughingstock.

But for everyone, old and young alike, no matter what ends up transpiring this season or what has transpired in the past, the Home Opener always marks a day where hope abounds.

There will be 80 more of these home games this season, but the first one is always so special.

This one, however --- the build up and anticipation on the North Shore all late-morning and early afternoon --- seemed much different.

This is a team expected to win, one (even with a 2-4 start) that has the makings of a squad that not could, but should contend for a National League Central pennant.

It was all so palpable as the Home Opener arrived, all so real and very much tangible. This fanbase isn't clinging to hope, but they have an anticipation these Pirates will play, once again, in the postseason.

"The Buccos are back and Spring has arrived," said Greg Brown, Pirates broadcaster who served as master of ceremonies as the focus shifted to the field for the traditional pregame ceremony.

Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett was introduced and the place went bonkers.

Same for manager Clint Hurdle, who shuttled out to the third base foul line on a couple new of hips.

Josh Harrison, who had this town in the palm of his hand all last season, jogged out after being introduced and it felt like the place was going to crumble under the applause.

Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker got rousing ovations, as did Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco.

And at 1:38 p.m. under a postcard-perfect 76 degrees, Pirates right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole flung a 95 mile-per-hour fastball toward Detroit Tigers leadoff hitter Anthony Gose.

Ball one.

That Spring Greg Brown had spoken of had arrived on the North Shore.

Just a few minutes later, Harrison stepped into the box and on the first pitch a Pirates player saw at PNC Park in 2015, he turned it around and into the right centerfield seats for a home run.

Again, PNC Park exploded.

With that, we were off.

A city that has fallen back in love with baseball was off through a 2015 journey at PNC Park.

Where does it end? Who knows.

But where it began, with this 2015 Home Opener, was a Pittsburgh where baseball has, indeed, taken center stage.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 "The Fan." You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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