- Wednesday was exciting for Pirate pitching prospect Jeff Locke and several other members of the Altoona Curve's 2010 Eastern League championship squad.
No less than 26 Pirate farmhands who appeared with the Curve during their EL title run a year ago received championship rings during an on-field ceremony prior to the Pirates' Grapefruit League game with the Houston Astros at McKechnie Field.
"It's very special," Locke said prior to the ceremony. "It's almost like a new year for us. It hasn't been a full year, but it's a new year and a chance to look back on the championship season we had, and reflect on that for a little while."
Locke, who came to the Pittsburgh organization from Atlanta in the Nate McLouth trade a couple years ago, split the 2010 season with Bradenton (high Class A) and Altoona. In 10 starts with the Curve, the 23-year-old southpaw posted a 3-2 record and 3.59 ERA with 56 strikeouts and only 12 walks.
Locke was happy with his entire Altoona experience - from the regular season through EL playoff series with Harrisburg and Trenton. He was 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two post-season starts for the Curve and was the winning pitcher in the second game of the championship series against Trenton.
"I spent a lot of time with [pitchers] Rudy [Owens], [Justin] Wilson and [Bryan] Morris and other guys on the staff," Locke said. "Losing the first game of both [playoff] series and then coming back to win - that's what we're in it.
"It was one heckuva year, so getting together with all the guys today to look back on our success is special."
Locke expects to be in Altoona to start the 2011 season, and he's excited.
"I really like Altoona," Locke said. "It's a real pitchers' park, and the fans have been great to us. They're really loyal. I'm excited to get back there again and, who knows, maybe we can do it [win championship] again."
Curve owner Bob Lozinak, general manager Rob Egan and Pirates director of player personnel Kyle Stark presented the rings at home plate.
Players receiving rings included Ramon Aguero, Tim Alderson, Tom Boleska, Mike Colla, Mike Crotta, Chase d'Arnaud, Michael Dubee, Miles Durham, Shelby Ford, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Gorkys Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Andrew Lambo, Jeff Locke, Jordy Mercer, Bryan Morris, Daniel Moskos, Jim Negrych, Anthony Norman, Rudy Owens, Alex Presley, Tony Watson and Kris Watts.
Pitching coach Tom Filer, hitting coach Ryan Long, trainer Bryan Housand, strength coach Chad Uihlein, clubhouse attendant Jake Hundt and team doctor Jay Robinson also received rings.
"Last year was the first championship the franchise experienced and it was special for everybody involved," Egan said. "Bob [Lozinak] had won a few in Albuquerque [as the Dukes' owner], but it was a long time ago, and it also was great for our fans.
"We had a special group of players and we probably won't have a lot of them back, so it was great to see them again and present them their rings."
Lozinak and Egan traveled to Lakeland on Monday and presented a ring to Matt Walbeck, the Curve's 2010 manager who now manages in the Atlanta Braves' farm system. Players no longer in the Pittsburgh organization will have their rings mailed to them.
Curve employees will receive their rings at the club's Eastern League home opener versus Richmond at 6:30 p.m. on April 14 at Blair County Ballpark. The pregame ceremony will be a part of the Champions of Curve, PA program, which is presented by the Altoona Mirror.
The ceremony will recognize not only the 2010 E.L> Champion Altoona Curve but all those individuals in the area who have
won a championship of some sort within the past 15 months. For more information on the Champions of Curve, PA program, please click here.