PITTSBURGH -- Initially uncertain about how PirateFest attendance totals might be affected by holding the event in December, the Pirates announced on Sunday that they ended up having near-record crowds at the three-day event.
A total of 16,574 fans turned out at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. That figure falls just short of the record 16,839 fans that the event drew last offseason. This year's attendance marks the second-largest PirateFest crowd since the indoor baseball carnival moved to the Convention Center in 2003.
"The near-record turnout this weekend at PirateFest, in addition to the large crowds throughout the region on the Caravan, has been outstanding," said team president Frank Coonelly. "The fan excitement from last season has carried over into the offseason events, and has our players and everyone within the organization enthusiastic for the upcoming season."
This marked the first winter that PirateFest has been held during the month of December. In the past, PirateFest had been a fixture in late January. But by moving up the date of the event, the Pirates were able to expand the space utilized in the Convention Center.
More than a dozen Pirates players, along with manager Clint Hurdle and members of his coaching staff, participated in this year's PirateFest, which was highlighted by question-and-answer sessions and a national anthem singing contest.
Single-game tickets for the 2012 season also went on sale over the weekend. Tickets for the season opener on April 5 are already limited to single-seat tickets and standing-room-only ones. The Pirates also announced that season-ticket sales have increased more than 40 percent since last winter.
In conjunction with PirateFest, the Pirates also held their annual Caravan last week. Five different groups of players made stops in 17 communities across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
The message that the organization preached during all of these events was one of optimism and growth. The Pirates are coming off a 72-win season that represented a 15-game improvement from the previous year. Still remaining is the task of shedding the albatross of 19 straight losing seasons. That will be atop the to-do list in 2012.
"In the 2011 season there were some really good days, and there were some really tough days at the end of the season," general manager Neal Huntington said. "There were four good months of solid baseball. We had two months of discovery on what we need to do better, how we can get better.
"For the first time since I've been here, I stand before you truly excited about where we're headed in 2012."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.