BRISTOL, Va. – “We are Family” was the theme Willie Stargell gave to the Pittsburgh Pirates when they last won a World Series title in 1979.
Forty years have passed, but Mahlon Luttrell says that theme still fits.
“The Pirates are a wonderful organization to be part of,” said Luttrell, who has been the president and general manager for much of the last 17 years with Bristol Baseball, Inc., including the last five with the Bristol Pirates. “They really treat you like family.
“You hear them talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates family. They really treat you that way. We feel real good about working with them.”
The Pirates will return to Bristol this week, with the players arriving on Friday. Pirates Fest will be held on June 17, with the Appalachian League season beginning on June 18 with a six-game homestand, including three games apiece with the Burlington Royals and the Greeneville Reds.
No wonder there is a sense of urgency at DeVault Stadium.
“We would like to have a few more days. This is the first year in about six years that we have had opening day here,” said Luttrell, who expects a game-day staff of 14 to work the 34 scheduled home games. “We still have a ton of work to do.
“Right now we are just trying to get everything done on the infield and the outfield. We are putting up our signs now. We have cleaned the clubhouses. We have got equipment that has started to come in. We have more equipment that just arrived today and we are trying to get all that equipment stored.”
Expect it to get done. The Pirates, no doubt, believe in Bristol.
“We provide a good environment for them. We take care of them,” Luttrell said. “That is one thing Pittsburgh likes about the staff and what we do here in Bristol. They know the players are going to be taken care of. We are not the fanciest ball park around, we don’t have all the latest gadgets, but we take care of their team and they appreciate it.”
This will mark a city-best 50th consecutive season that professional baseball has been held at DeVault Stadium, which has included the Detroit Tigers (1969-94), Chicago White Sox (1995-2013) and the Pirates since 2014. Bristol’s first year of pro baseball was in 1911.
Bristol has struggled in recent years to attract crowds to DeVault Stadium, but efforts are being made to get more butts in the seats in the season ahead.
“I think in some of the promotions we have got lined up it is going to be real good for us this year,” Luttrell said. “We try to mix and change that up and try to have a lot of specialty nights. We think that is going to boost attendance this year.”
There have been rumblings of a possible renovated or even new facility for the Pirates.
“There is interest there for it. There have just got to be a lot of private money to go into it,” Luttrell said. “If you put this in the condition that it needs to be, you are talking about $5-5.5 million. You could build a brand new facility for about $13 or $14 million.
“It is a very unique stadium. There are the lights, the field needs a lot of work. All the structures need a lot of attention.”
For now, DeVault Stadium will remain the home of the Pirates, and what they hope is a winning season ahead. Luttrell would like a few more wins to help fill the seats, but it remains to be seen how Bristol will line up with the rest of the 10-team league.
Bristol has won eight Appalachian League championships since 1922, with the last coming in 2002, but the primary purpose of the rookie league circuit is to develop future major leaguers.
“Everybody likes to win games,” said Luttrell, who said four Bristol Pirates have made that step to the big leagues. “The kids do, the coaches do, but you also know you have got to instruct them properly as well.”
Off the field, Luttrell is still working to find host families for the Pirates. He still needs another 8 to 10 homes to invite players into their homes for the summer.
“The big thing right now is to continue trying to get host families,” he said. “Host families are very important right now. Pretty much they provide a place for the players to live or sleep. Some host families will do more, some will do less. All we ask is for a safe environment for them.”
Pirates Fest, which will be held on June 17 from 4-8 p.m., will be the first opportunity for fans to interact with the team, which will be led by manager Kieran Mattison. There will be an autograph session and the host families will provide a meal for the team.
“Pretty much it is meet and greet with the Pirates,” said Luttrell, who is confident in Dan Moushon filling the shoes of the retired Lee Landers as Appalachian League president. “We are going to have inflatables out in the parking lot. There will be some music and just some good fun stuff.”