The dream of one native son that began decades ago has not only become a reality, but completed its 20th season in 2018. The story of the Altoona Curve begins in 1979. Area native Bob Lozinak, a successful McDonald's franchisee, knew his hometown was a baseball haven and always dreamed of what it would be like to have a professional sports team in his hometown. He had a chance to make a dream of many come to fruition, so as the 1970s were about to come to a close, a series of meetings and preliminary discussions took place to put the plan into motion. However, there was enough opposition that thwarted the idea as an initial fear from natives was that a professional team would hurt the successful youth teams in the region. Professional baseball, for the time being, was put on the back burner.
In the meantime, that same year, Bob and his family went across the country and bought what became one of the most successful franchises in the entire country - the Albuquerque Dukes (AAA - Dodgers).
Fast-forward 16 years.
Like many other decisions in baseball, the latest round of major league expansion had a domino effect on the minor leagues. In 1995, Arizona and Tampa Bay were awarded major league franchises to play their inaugural season in 1998. To keep pace, baseball's rookie level added two teams in 1996. The following year, Class 'A' and Class 'AAA' each increased by two teams.
That left only Class 'AA' in need of expansion to match the number of teams in the big leagues. In 1997, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues decided the Eastern League would receive the two new franchises to start play in 1999. Erie was an easy first choice of the NAPBL's expansion committee. After all, the SeaWolves had established short-season attendance records in the new Jerry Uht Park as part of the New York-Penn League from 1995-98.
The awarding of the second franchise wasn't easy. For months, it seemed Springfield, Mass. would land the team. However, an inability to finalize land and stadium finance deals left the NAPBL looking for another option. Enter Altoona. City native Bob Lozinak and a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers put together an 11th-hour stadium financing package and site plan. The proposal was presented to the expansion committee at an October 5, 1997 meeting in Las Vegas. It received unanimous approval and Double-A baseball was on its way to Altoona.
Ballpark groundbreaking ceremonies took place on March 7, 1998 and the franchise was officially awarded the following month. In June of that year, the team selected "Curve" as its nickname. The combination railroad/baseball moniker beat out several choices like "Lake Monsters," "Ridge Runners" and, believe it or not, "Fish!"
The next step for the Curve was affiliating with a major league team. Erie seemed to have an inside track on becoming the Pirates' new Double-A club, as the SeaWolves had served as Pittsburgh's short-season club from 1995-98. However, after a series of meetings with potential major league parent clubs, the Curve landed the coveted affiliation with the Pirates. The September 1998 announcement took the franchise to another level as the U.S. Route 22 pairing seemed an ideal fit. Central Pennsylvania fans, with their strong Pirates' roots, could now cheer for the Bucs' top prospects on their way to Pittsburgh.
The long-awaited first game in Curve history took place on April 9, 1999 in Reading, Pa. The game against the Phillies' affiliate was suspended by rain and completed the next day as part of a doubleheader. For the record, the Curve lost their first contest, 6-2, but recorded their first win hours later with a 6-4 decision in game two.
Finally, the Curve christened Blair County Ballpark on April 15 with a triumph over the Bowie Baysox. A crowd of 6,171 attended the history-making contest despite cold, rainy weather and nearly a one-hour delay.
The 1999 Curve went 67-73 on the field and finished last in the Eastern League's Southern Division. Pitcher Bronson Arroyo won 15 games, tied for the most in the league and still the most in a single season for a Curve pitcher. Outfielder Adam Hyzdu cemented himself as the Curve's first star, hitting .316 with 24 home runs. Third baseman Kevin Haverbusch was the Curve's lone representative at the Double-A All-Star Game in Mobile, Ala.
On July 25, 1999, catcher Yamid Haad became the first Curve alum to reach the Majors, debuting with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
323,932 fans flocked to Blair County Ballpark during the inaugural season.
In 2000, the Curve posted a 74-68 record, their first winning season, and saw 333,968 fans at Blair County Ballpark. Adam Hyzdu returned for a second season with the Curve, hitting 31 homers and driving in 106 runs, both still good for single-season franchise records. Following the final game of the season on September 4, 2000, the Curve retired Hyzdu's number 16. Hyzdu is still tied for the most homers in a Curve career with 55, and he is the only player in team history to play 142 games in a season, a feat he accomplished in 2000.
In 2001, Dale Sveum became the second manager in the team's history. Attendance continued to climb, with 348,316 fans attending games at Blair County Ballpark. The team finished the year 63-79.
After three remarkable seasons, the Lozinak family sold the franchise to a group headed by Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg on April 2, 2002. Among the limited partners in Greenberg's collective: Pittsburgh Penguins' owner, star center and NHL Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux; Pittsburgh Steelers' all-pro running back Jerome Bettis; Altoona-based businessmen Steve Sheetz and Don Devorris. Todd Parnell was tabbed as the team's new General Manager.
On August 5, 2002 the Curve announced a new four-year affiliation agreement with Pittsburgh, securing one of baseball's strongest affiliations through 2006. Despite the ownership change, the Curve franchise enjoyed its most successful season to that point, drawing 363,871 fans to Blair County Ballpark.
Between the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Blair County Ballpark underwent its first major capital expansion project, as a new third-base Picnic Area, left-field Party Deck and outfield reserved seating section were constructed. The additions of the new areas brought the seating capacity of the ballpark to just over 7,200 and created enough room to hold nearly 10,000 fans on any night.
During the 2003 season, the Curve, led by third-year manager Dale Sveum, took the franchise to new heights on the field, posting a 78-63 regular season record and securing the club's first-ever Eastern League postseason berth. The Curve lost to the eventual E.L. Champion Akron Aeros three-games-to-one in the first round of the playoffs. The playoff run helped fuel yet another franchise attendance record as 365,376 fans came through the gates at BCB.
In 2004, the Curve, managed by Tony Beasley, finished with a league-best 85-56 record and not only returned to the playoffs, but took the next step and advanced to the Eastern League Championship Series for the first time in club history before losing to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
The '04 season also turned out to be a banner year at the gates as the Curve added a fifth consecutive franchise attendance record after drawing 394,062 fans to Blair County Ballpark. Among those fans who attended Curve home games in 2004 was Vice President Dick Cheney, who attended the club's Fourth of July game against Harrisburg. Following the season, Curve General Manager Todd Parnell was honored as the Eastern League Executive of the Year, while the franchise was presented the prestigious Larry MacPhail Trophy symbolizing the top promotional effort, both on and off the field, in all of baseball.
The 2005 edition of the Curve reached postseason play in dramatic fashion, sweeping a four-game road series from Bowie during the final weekend of the season to reach the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Despite losing in the first round of the playoffs, the Curve won big earlier in the season when the franchise was named the host of the 2006 E.L. All-Star Game.
Altoona would have a banner year in 2006. The highlight of the season, and arguably the top moment in the first eight seasons of Curve baseball, came on July 12th when Altoona played host to the 2006 Eastern League All-Star Game. A then Blair County Ballpark-record crowd of 9,308 were on hand to witness Curve All-Star Brett Roneberg take home MVP honors in a 5-3 win for the Southern Division All-Stars.
In the fall of 2006, the franchise won two prestigious awards, most notably the John H. Johnson President's Trophy, which is given annually to Minor League Baseball's top club on the basis of long-time franchise stability, contributions to and promotion of the baseball industry and the financial success of the team. Also, the Curve were honored by Baseball America as the 2006 winner of the Double-A Bob Freitas Award.
On the field, the 2006 Curve posted a 75-64 record under first-year manager Tim Leiper and reached the Eastern League postseason for the for the fourth straight season, ultimately losing in a back-and-forth Divisional Series to the Akron Aeros.
The 2007 season proved to be a year in which the Curve continued their winning ways, as the club marched on to its sixth consecutive winning season. That season, plenty of the Pirates' top prospects passed through Blair County Ballpark. In addition to third-baseman Neil Walker and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, first basemen Steve Pearce enjoyed one of the finest seasons in club history en route to being named the 2007 Topps Minor League Player of the Year.
In 2008, the Curve celebrated their storybook 10th anniversary season by welcoming back plenty of former stars, including Adam Hyzdu and Josh Bonifay, among many others. The Curve also unveiled their 10th Anniversary All-Time team.
On June 17, Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, and his wife, Rosalynn, attended the Curve versus Reading game while on a fishing trip in nearby Huntingdon. Carter sported a black Curve jersey and watched the game with friends and family members in luxury suite 410.
As for the team, though, the Curve underachieved as they suffered their first losing season since 2001, finishing with a mark of 65-77 and a fifth place finish in the Eastern League's Southern Division.
However, 2008 will be remembered not for what happened during the season, but rather what happened following the season. On Dec. 1, 2008, President and Managing Partner, Chuck Greenberg announced that his group was selling the Curve back to original owner and visionary, Bob Lozinak. Greenberg announced that he was forming a sports consultation service and that many members of the Curve upper management would join his endeavor, including General Manager Todd Parnell.
Shortly after the announcement of the sale, it was made public that David Lozinak would be appointed as the team's Chief Operating Officer, overseeing the day-to-day functions of the ball club.
The final block to the organization's new foundation was laid on December 5, 2008 when the Lozinak Family announced that they would bring back an old friend to steer the Curve into the future -- Rob Egan. Egan was the original play-by-play broadcaster for the team from 1999-2004. He left baseball for four years, but returned to the minors to become just the fourth General Manager in the club's 11-year history.
On December 30, 2008, Minor League Baseball approved the sale of the Curve from Greenberg's group back to Lozinak and the second chapter of the Lozinak era officially began.
The 2009 season saw the Altoona Curve stumble under first-year manager Matt Walbeck as the team got off to a franchise worst 0-8 start and was never able to recover, finishing the year 62-80. However, the team did see one of the most prospect-laden lineups ever assembled in team history. As Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington traded away many valuable players at the major league level, an influx of talent came back in return. However, no one expected the fanfare that Pirates' 2008 top draft pick and top-rated prospect Pedro Alvarez would get when it was learned the New York native was being promoted from Lynchburg (A) on June 23. A throng of media attention ensued, and Alvarez lived up to all his hype.
The third baseman hit .333 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in just 60 games with the Curve. He was named the 2009 Curve M.V.P. not only for those staggering numbers, but primarily for the impact he had in the team's overall success. In games in which Alvarez played, the Curve were 34-26 (.567) while going just 26-51 (.338) in games when Alvarez did not play.
An outstanding partnership with the Pittsburgh Pirates became even stronger during the 2009 season when, on May 23, the Curve and Pirates signed a four-year extension to their Player Development Agreement, which extended through the 2014 season.
With a solid affiliation under their belt, the Curve embarked on what was their most magical season on the field in Altoona in 2010. From the outset, the 2010 Curve had the swagger and winning attitude that would carry the club to its second division title and its first-ever Eastern League Championship.
The cast of the 2010 club pretty much came as a cohesive unit from High-A Lynchburg, where they won the Mills Cup (Carolina League championship) in 2009. On Opening Day 2010, Altoona was greeted by a prospect-laden roster that included four of the Pirates Top-10 prospects according to Baseball America and eight of the Top-30 overall prospects. It was also a roster that had veteran talent, and it proved to be the perfect mix to get Altoona off to a nearly perfect start as the club started the season 7-1, a drastic turnaround after starting 2009, 0-8.
Included in those first eight games was one day where everything seemed to fall into place for a memorable afternoon at BCB. After the first three games of the season were played under dreary cold conditions, mother nature opened the skies for a perfect 67-degree day on April 11th when the national spotlight turned to Altoona for the first professional start of Harrisburg Senators phenom Stephen Strasburg. More than 70 media members from around the country and upwards of 7,800 people came to watch the professional debut of the heralded Strasburg on the picture-perfect day in Curve, Pa. The game was also carried live on ESPN360.com and had parts of it aired on ESPNews.
It was the first of two national exposure days for Blair County Ballpark and the city of Altoona during 2010 as Andy Pettitte later started against Altoona in the first game of the Eastern League Championship series. Pettitte's start brought the MLB Network and some of the New York spotlight to BCB as Pettitte's Thunder met the Curve for the first time in a playoff series.
All told, Altoona finished the regular season 82-60 to win its second division title and first since 2004. The 82 wins were second most in franchise history behind the 2004 club's 85 victories under manager Tony Beasley. After dispatching of Harrisburg three games to one in the divisional round, the Curve forged on to the ELCS to meet Trenton.
Pettitte's Thunder did take Game One but Altoona once again sprung back to take the final three games of the series. Curve closer Daniel Moskos was able to get the final out via the strikeout at Waterfront Park in Trenton on September 18th to bring the first-ever E.L. Championship to Altoona.
A few short months after the first-ever E.L. title was won, the Curve as a franchise took another step forward by unveiling the team's new logo set, which paid homage to the railroad engineers that helped put Altoona on the map.
Armed with a fresh new look for 2011, the Curve were also given a makeover in the coaching staff assignments as P.J. Forbes became the sixth manager in Altoona Curve history. Forbes, who had piloted the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League for three seasons from 2006-08, was coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances with High-A Lynchburg and High-A Bradenton in 2009 and 2010 (he led the '09 Hillcats to a Mills Cup title) before joining Altoona.
The 2011 Curve didn't get off to as fast of a start as the 2010 championship-winning club but did come out and compete on a nightly basis. A strange streak occurred during the season's first month as Altoona went on an unprecedented streak of 19-straight games of alternating wins and losses. The streak ran from April 10th through May 1st and was snapped on May 2nd, when Altoona won its second-straight game.
Despite the streak and an eventual 64-77 finish to the season, many positive things happened on the field in 2011 and they began with center fielder Starling Marte.
Marte, a native of Santo Domingo, D.R., was on the Curve roster from the get-go in 2011 and never ceased to impress. The 22-year-old proceeded to tear through the Eastern League en route to an Eastern League batting title and Eastern League Rookie of the Year honors. It was the first time in franchise history that a member of the Curve had won the Rookie of the Year award and it was also the first time that an active Curve player won the batting title (Jeff Keppinger won it in 2004 but spent the final months of the season as a Binghamton Met).
The speedy outfielder also set a few Curve single-season records along the way in 2011, posting franchise bests in outfield assists (18) and hits (178). In addition to his other accolades, Marte was both a mid-season and post-season E.L. All-Star, an XM Futures Game Selection, Eastern League August Player of the Month and a Topps Double-A All-Star.
Season 13 in Curve, Pa. also saw nine different former Curve players make their Major League debuts. Many of the nine played for the 2010 Eastern League Championship club (Mike Crotta, Daniel Moskos, Josh Harrison, Tony Watson, Chase d'Arnaud, Jared Hughes and Jeff Locke) while some were first-year Curve players that cracked the Pirates' 25-man roster (Eric Fryer and Aaron Thompson).
Off the field, the Curve received much national notoriety for the first-ever, on-field reversible cap, which was introduced in 2011. The cap featured the new Curve engineer on the regular side and a "Rally Cap" on the inside fashioned after rally mascot Al Tuna. The Curve's Summer Cruise Night Series, which combined a cruise giveaway with the stupendous films of Tom Cruise, was also a finalist for a Golden Bobblehead for one of the best promotions in Minor League Baseball. Average attendance at Blair County Ballpark also rose for the first time since it climbed from 2005 to the 2006 seasons.
The offseason leading into the club's 14th year of existence was also no quiet one as the Curve forged a partnership with Peoples Natural Gas that renamed the ballpark Peoples Natural Gas Field. The partnership not only included a naming-rights deal but spurred economic development at the park and surrounding areas with the use of green energy.
Altoona's 2012 season began on April 5 with a very special announcement from Pirates President Frank Coonelly, who announced to the Opening Night crowd that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be returning to Altoona to play an exhibition game before the 2013 season for the first time since 2000. On the diamond, the Curve had an up-and-down season under P.J. Forbes, who directed the Curve for a second-straight season. An end-of-the-season winning streak propelled the Curve above the .500 mark and the team finished 72-70, but missed out on the E.L. playoff picture.
In the future, the 2012 season may be remembered as the season where fans in Curve, Pa. had the opportunity to see two future aces in the making with top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon both making their way to Double-A during the season. Cole, the first-overall pick in the 2011 draft, reached Altoona on June 20 and made his debut at home while Taillon debuted almost exactly two months later on the road in Trenton. It was the first time that both the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the organization according to Baseball America were in Altoona at the same time since Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker were in Curve uniforms for the 2007 season.
Other standouts on the field for the Curve included shortstop Brock Holt, who eventually went on to make his Major League debut later in the season with the Pirates. Holt stayed in Altoona until the beginning of August before he received his first promotion to Triple-A. After putting on a hitting clinic with Altoona, Holt lampooned International League pitching to earn his call up to Pittsburgh. The Texas native hit well enough with Altoona before his promotion and had enough at-bats to still hang on to win the Eastern League batting title, marking the second-straight season a Curve batter won the crown.
Holt was part of 11 more former Curve players to make their debuts in the major leagues in 2012, bringing the overall number to 101 in 14 seasons. Another former Curve player who made a splash in the bigs in 2012 was Marte, who homered in his first at bat as a member of the Pirates in Houston on July 26.
After being nominated for a Golden Bobblehead in 2011, the Curve franchise won a Golden Bobblehead in 2012 in the "Best Charity Promotion or Event" category for its efforts with Curve, Pa. Blue Out Saturdays, which aimed at raising awareness and funds for Prevent Child Abuse, Pennsylvania. The club, which partnered with six other teams across the state of Pennsylvania, wore Blue jerseys in support of the cause for each Saturday home game and also helped raise funds through the sale of special Blue-Out T-shirts and wristbands as well as text-to-donate programs. All told, the Curve's efforts, plus those of the other six participating teams, raised over $11,000 from the season-long efforts.
Fast forward to March of 2013 and the second-ever exhibition game between the Curve and Pirates. Despite snow the Monday before the game, the temperatures warmed up and the Curve welcomed a franchise-record 10,116 fans to watch the Pirates and Curve play their first exhibition game since 2000. Just like in 2000, fans were treated to a Curve victory, this time by a score of 8-6. Former Curve OF Starling Marte had himself a day, hitting a grand slam while going 2-for-3.
A pair of big announcements also came with the Pirates-Curve Exhibition that day. The first announcement being that the Curve and Pirates had extended their Player Development Contract a season early and extended it through the 2018 season. When the affiliation reaches the 2018 season, the Curve and Pirates will be in their 20th year as parent and affiliate. It was then revealed a short time later that the Eastern League All-Star Game was returning to Blair County with the Curve poised to host the 2014 game at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Altoona's regular-season had its ups and downs and the team finished with a record of 63-79 under first-year manager Carlos Garcia. Despite the record, fans were treated to some of the best prospects in the Pirates system throughout the season that included RHP Jameson Taillon, OF Gregory Polanco, RHP Nick Kingham and SS Alen Hanson. Taillon, who had a cup of tea with the Curve in 2012, spent a majority of 2013 with the club before a promotion to Triple-A in August while Polanco joined the team in June and also went to Indianapolis during the month of August. Kingham joined the club midway through the year and finished the campaign with the Curve. Hanson did the same but did not join the team until late July after beginning the year with Bradenton.
One couldn't talk about the 2013 Curve season without talking about the performance of outfielder Alex Dickerson, who was in his first season at the Double-A level. Dickerson, a native of Poway, Calif., had a slow start to the year before lighting the world on fire from June until the end of the season. He went on to hit .288 for the season with 36 doubles, three triples, 17 home runs and 68 RBI in 126 games en route to being named the Eastern League Rookie of the Year. He was the second Curve player to ever win the award and the second in the last three seasons after Starling Marte won it in 2011.
The 2013 campaign also saw the club's second ever no-hitter come to fruition when Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Jhonathan Ramos and Ryan Beckman combined on a nine-inning no-no on July 25, 2013 in Manchester, N.H. versus the Fisher Cats. It had been over 10 years since the Curve threw a no-hitter, which occurred in 2002 when Adrian Burnside, Neal McDade and Chris Spurling accomplished the feat.
In 2014, the Curve hosted the league's annual All-Star Game with the Eastern League All-Star Stop presented by UPMC Health Plan for the second time in franchise history. Over 6,000 fans packed into Peoples Natural Gas Field to watch the league's brightest stars for the game itself on July 16 while nearly 11,000 total across the two-days' worth of events filled PNG Field. During the first day of events, the Curve dedicated one seat in the lower seating bowl a POW/MIA Chair, never to be inhabited in memory of those soldiers that have not yet returned home.
Following up the dedication of the POW/MIA chair, the Curve hosted its version of a home run derby with the Ghostman Games & Hitting Challenge. In a competition of four players, the Curve's very own Willy Garcia won the event for the Western Division with a home run that sailed into the night sky out in left field.
On the field, the Curve struggled to a 61-81 record but the season saw Garcia set a new single-season franchise record with 19 outfield assists. Catcher Elias Diaz led the club offensively, hitting .328 with six home runs and 54 RBI through his 91 games, while right-hander Adrian Sampson aced the pitching staff, posting a 10-5 record with a 2.55 ERA in 24 starts. Both players represented the Curve in the All-Star Stop. The team also set a franchise-record for steals in a single season with 159, besting the 155-mark of the 2005 Curve.
Sampson, who was both a mid-season and post-season All-Star, also came within two outs of the franchise's first nine-inning no hitter by a single pitcher. The feat was thwarted, however, by Bowie's Mike Yastrzemski when he sliced a double down the left-field line. It was the only hit Sampson permitted on the evening and the game on July 19 still went down as the first one-hitter by single pitcher in Curve franchise history. Even cooler, he did it with his mom in attendance for the game just a few days shy of her birthday.
At the end of the year, Curve General Manager Rob Egan was presented with the Eastern League Executive of the Year Award at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, the second-ever member of the Altoona front office to receive the award.
In 2015, the Curve played their first season under the direction of manager Tom Prince. A former Major League catcher, Prince guided the Curve to their first playoff appearance since 2010 with a 74-68 record with a roster including top prospects Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl. Although the team was eliminated by Bowie in the Division Series, the Curve had one of their most successful seasons in recent years. Twelve players were promoted to Triple-A for the first time in their careers, with two of them reaching the Majors before the end of the year. The franchise also saw its highest attendance total in nine seasons. The season culminated with the Curve earning the Eastern League's nomination for the John H. Johnson President's Award, the top honor in Minor League Baseball.
Joey Cora took over as the Curve's manager in 2016, leading the team back to the postseason in what would be his only season with Altoona. The Curve were eliminated in the Western Division Series by the eventual-league-champion Akron RubberDucks.
Outfielder Austin Meadows, who was named by Baseball America as the Eastern League's most exciting player, turned heads early in the season when he went on a franchise-record 24-game hitting streak prior to his promotion to Triple-A.
In 2016, 14 former Curve players made their MLB debuts, the most in a single season since the franchise was founded. Nine of those players debuted with the Pirates: Alen Hanson, Jameson Taillon, Jacob Stallings, Adam Frazier, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell and Max Moroff.
Following the season, the Pirates announced that Cora would be the new major league third base coach. 2015 Curve manager Tom Prince was also added to the big league coaching staff, taking over as Clint Hurdle's new bench coach.
Changes also came to the Altoona front office. After eight seasons as general manager and 14 overall seasons with the Curve, Rob Egan left to take the same job with the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. The Curve announced former front office staff member Derek Martin as the new general manager in the fall of 2016.
During the 2017 preseason, new stadium updates and upgrades were made to Peoples Natural Gas Field, beginning with the demolition of the original box office and construction of a brand new one. The stadium also received new field lights, becoming one of the first two Eastern League parks to upgrade to LED lighting. New netting was also installed behind home plate to improve fans' views and provide more protection.
Indiana, Pa. native Michael Ryan was named as Curve manager prior to the season after leading the A-Adv. Bradenton Marauders to the Florida State League title in 2016. By season's end, he and his club replicated that feat in Double-A, winning the Curve's second Eastern League championship. The Curve won their second Western Division title on September 4, the last day of the regular season, with a walk-off home run by Mitchell Tolman in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Harrisburg Senators.
The Curve rode the momentum into the playoffs, and they began postseason play with one of the most dominating pitching performances in team history. Pirates' top pitching prospect Mitch Keller took the mound in Game 1 of the Western Division Series at Bowie on September 8 and threw a complete-game shutout on just 90 pitches, allowing only one hit.
With wins in the next two games against the Baysox, the Curve advanced to face the Trenton Thunder in the Eastern League Championship Series, a team that won 92 games during the regular season. Starting pitchers Brandon Waddell and J.T. Brubaker led the Curve to road wins in the first two games in the best-of-five series. The Curve returned home for Game 3 on September 14 and a chance to clinch with Keller on the mound.
The Thunder plated a pair of early runs to take a 2-0 lead, but the Curve rallied in the fifth inning. Jerrick Suiter got the Curve on the board with a bases-loaded walk and Jin-De Jhang followed with a two-out, bases-clearing triple to give the Curve a 4-2 lead. Keller settled in to strike out eight batters over 7.1 innings en route to winning the Eastern League Postseason Most Valuable Player Award.
Closer Tate Scioneaux took the mound for the Curve in the ninth inning and struck out the side in order to close out the game and the championship for the Curve, who became just the third E.L. team since 1983 to sweep all six of their postseason games.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Curve made some fresh updates to the ballpark that included a brand new, state-of-the-art video board, upgraded broadcasts and televisions, a new playing surface, new on-field caps and a new alternate red jersey.
The team honored their growing history throughout 2018 with a season-long celebration of 20 Seasons of Curve Baseball in Altoona and welcomed back former stars Adam Hyzdu and Jack Wilson. The team also unveiled their Fans' Choice All-Time Curve Team Bobblehead Series, a set of 11 bobblehead giveaways, to honor the 20th season.
Entering the season, MLB.com ranked the Altoona roster as one of "the Minors' 10 most talented teams" while 12 of MLB.com's Preseasons Top 30 Pirates prospects spent time with the Curve during the season: Mitch Keller, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Cole Tucker, Bryan Reynolds, Taylor Hearn, Luis Escobar, Nick Kingham, Will Craig, Stephen Alemais, Jason Martin, Nick Burdi and Brandon Waddell.
Keller, the Pirates top overall prospect by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline entering the 2018 season, followed up a strong 2017 postseason and cemented his name as one of the best pitchers in Curve history. Keller went 9-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 14 starts and threw eight, one-hit shutout innings in his final Curve start on June 25 vs. Harrisburg before he was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. In 22 compined starts (regular season and playoffs) with the Curve, Keller went 13-4 with a 2.63 ERA.
First baseman Will Criag was the 2018 Altoona Curve MVP and played the hero in the 2018 Eastern League All-Star Classic in Trenton. With the game tied 4-4 after nine innings, a swing-off between Craig and Zach Green of Reading replaced extra innings with Craig coming out on top. Craig led the Eastern League with 102 RBIs in the regular season to become just the second Curve hitter to eclipse 100 RBIs in a single season, joining the legendary Adam Hyzdu. A first round pick by the Pirates in the 2016 draft, Craig also clubbed 20 homers during a season in which he was an Eastern League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star.
Third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes played one of the best defensive seasons the Eastern League has ever seen during the season. The Pirates first-round draft choice in 2015 won back-to-back Rawlings MiLB Gold Glove Awards as the best defensive third baseman in the minors with a .974 fielding percentage at A-Adv. Bradenton in 2017 and turned around in 2018 with a .978 mark in Altoona. Hayes' .978 fielding percentage at third base ranked as the highest ever recorded at the position in the Eastern League with data only available dating back to 1959.
As a team, the Curve trailed Akron by seven games entering play on August 1 before surging back over the final month of the season. With a record of 78-60, the Curve captured a second straight division title by one game over Akron, matched a team record with a fourth consecutive playoff berth (2003-06) and earned back-to-back division crowns for the first time in team history.
However, Akron eliminated the Curve from postseason play in four games during the Western Division Series. The RubberDucks took the first two games in Akron, but the Curve did not go quietly once the series shifted to Altoona.
Akron jumped out to a 5-0 lead in Game 3 at PNG Field and were on the brink of sweeping their way to the ELCS. In the bottom of the fifth, however, the Curve scored their first run and managed to load the bases for Cole Tucker, who delivered one of the most electrifying moments in the Curve's 20-year history. In an 0-2 count, Tucker crushed a grand slam into the left field bleachers and tied the game, 5-5. Altoona rallied for three more runs in the eighth and went on to force a fourth game with an 8-5 victory. Unable to harness that momentum the next day, Curve lost Game 4 to the 'Ducks, 9-0, to close out the team's 20th season.
A few days later on September 12 in St. Louis, the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup was composed completely of Curve alumni for the first time ever. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle went with the following at Busch Stadium against the Cardinals: 2B Adam Frazier, CF Starling Marte, 1B Josh Bell, RF Jordan Luplow, 3B Kevin Kramer, LF Pablo Reyes, SS Kevin Newman, C Jacob Stallings and P Jameson Taillon. The first All-Curve Alumni lineup for the Pirates at PNC Park happened a short time later on September 23 against the Milwaukee Brewers. Reyes, Marte, Bell and Luplow all started that game as well while C Elias Diaz, 3B Jose Osuna, 2B Josh Harrison, SS Jordy Mercer and P Nick Kingham joined them on the field in Pittsburgh.
In 2018, 14 former Curve players made their MLB debuts and matched the 2016 total for the most in a single season over the first 20 years of the franchise's history. Just as it was in 2016, nine of those players debuted with the Pirates: Clay Holmes, Nick Kingham, Austin Meadows, Tanner Anderson, Alex McRae, Kevin Newman, Pablo Reyes, Kevin Kramer and Nick Burdi.