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Lions Eager to Suit up at PNC Park

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In general, cancellations and make up games can be a hassle for programs that already have a loaded schedule. For Penn State, a rained out game originally scheduled for March 22 against West Virginia has now turned into an opportunity of a lifetime.

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates announced last Friday that the make up game between the Nittany Lions and Mountaineers will take place at home in their very own PNC Park Wednesday, May 10 instead of at the previously scheduled Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

 

"We're excited about it," said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper. "Hopefully it's something that can become a regular event there, but I think it's going to be really neat. It'll be a great experience for our kids to play in PNC Park, and hopefully we can get a really big Nittany Lion contingent there."

 

Frank Coonelly, the president of the Pirates since 2007, graduated from Penn State in 1983. In the statement released by the Pirates last Friday Coonelly praised both schools as "outstanding institutions" and said the Pirates are honored to host the game.

 

The Lions could also feel right at home in Pittsburgh, as Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is modeled with the same dimensions as PNC Park. Cooper said that it could potentially help calm the nerves of any star-struck players. He said it's the same size and the same game, so his team will be ready.

 

A few players who may have to try harder to calm their nerves are longtime Pirates fans Nick Riotto and Ryan Sloniger.

 

Riotto was born and raised in Washington, Pennsylvania, which is about a half hour southwest of PNC Park. Riotto said he has been attending Pirates games even before they called PNC Park home.

 

As a child, Riotto had the chance to watch the team when they played at Three Rivers Stadium. Both the Pirates and Steelers played at Three Rivers Stadium from 1970 to 2000.

 

He even threw out the first pitch in a game when he was around four years old.

 

"Ever since I could probably play baseball I was a Pirates fan," Riotto said. "I always went to games at PNC Park growing up and in high school, but getting to play on it is going to be pretty cool."

 

Riotto, like most of the team, has never played on a major league field before. Luckily for him, his first time catching fly balls in a major league outfield will be where his favorite players take their positions almost every day.

 

"It's like a dream come true," Riotto said.

 

In regards to the similar dimensions in the outfield, Riotto said it will help in that he won't have to change anything in his preparation or during the game.

 

"Being able to go to a stadium that's identical helps a lot because that way I can just go and focus on what I need to do rather than focus maybe on the wall or where I am on the field," Riotto said.

 

Similar to Riotto, Sloniger grew up a die-hard Pirates fan. Sloniger hails from Punxsutawney, which is about an hour and a half drive to Pittsburgh, but that didn't stop him and his family from going to Pirates games regularly when he was younger.

 

Sloniger said his dad raised him as a Pittsburgh sports nut. He said he still always loves getting back to PNC Park to catch games when he can.

 

"When you get in that big stadium it's going to be a different feel. It's obviously going to be a really cool feel," Sloniger said. "It's a dream come true for me too."

 

Cooper said this great opportunity will not only give the team a fun experience but will also help with recruiting players and energizing the fan base.

 

"If you've been to a game at PNC Park it's such a great place to watch a game, so to be able to play in what I think is one of the best ball parks in all of professional baseball, it's a great thing to be able to do with your team," Cooper said.

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