OV Mall hosts Pirates’ Caravan Thursday night

Area Pirates’ fans have a unique opportunity to acquire an early Christmas present this week – a personalized (free) autograph from Bucs’ all-star outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ annual Winter Caravan is making a pair of area stops, including Thursday’s visit to the Ohio Valley Mall at St. Clairsville.

McCutchen, easily one of major league baseball’s premier talents, is scheduled to meet and greet Ohio Valley fans during a 90-minute appearance Thursday between 6:30 and 8 p.m. The free event is expected to attract hundreds of Bucco supporters.

Joining McCutchen at the OV Mall stop are teammates Jared Hughes and Justin Wilson. Additionally, bench coach Jeff Bannister and broadcaster Greg Brown are attending.

With the 2012 season entering its final weeks, the National League MVP award appeared McCutchen’s to lose. The Bucs’ ultra-talented young centerfielder was potentially on pace to lead the league in batting average and drive in over 100 runs.

But much like his once-contending teammates, McCutchen unexpectedly hit the wall and could not close it out. Still, he finished with a .327 batting average, 96 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

McCutchen’s stellar season included 194 hits and 31 home runs in addition to delivering 29 doubles and a half-dozen triples. He is also considered among MLB’s finest defensive players.

Hughes proved one of the Bucs’ top pitchers out of the bullpen as a steady set-up man. The righthander made 66 appearances and logged a 2-2 record with an impressive 2.85 ERA. Wilson, meanwhile, saw limited duty but expects his innings to increase in 2013.

ON WEDNESDAY, second baseman Neil Walker and power-hitting third baseman Pedro Alvarez are part of a caravan stop which visits Steubenville’s Fort Steuben Mall.

Alvarez and Walker will be joined by pitcher Bryan Morris, coach Nick Leyva and ex-Pirate and longtime broadcaster Steve Blass. Hours for the Steubenville stop are also 6:30 to 8 p.m. and free autographs are offered.

Walker’s 2012 season was cut short late due to injuries. In 129 games, the popular western-Pennsylvania native hit .280. The switch-hitting Walker clubbed 14 round-trippers and knocked in 69 teammates.

Alvarez, a former No. 1 draft selection, enjoyed a mostly breakout season. In 149 games, the lefty-swinging Alvarez connected for 30 home runs and 85 RBI. Following a slow start, Alvarez finished with a .244 batting average.

NEXT weekend (Friday-Sunday) the 23rd annual PirateFest takes place at downtown Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Friday is a season ticket holders-only day followed by two days open to the general public. Last year’s Piratefest attracted over 16,000 fans. That number is expected to increase this year.

Tickets for PirateFest are $12 (adults) and $6 (children 14 and younger).

OHIO Valley native John Antonik, currently Director of New Media for Intercollegiate Athletics at West Virginia University, will appear on the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch With Books program Tuesday at noon to discuss his new book: “The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History..”

That, of course, referring to the no-longer-in-progress West Virginia-Pittsburgh football series which concluded following the 2011 campaign.

With the Mountaineers joining the Big 12 and Pitt heading to the ACC, the historic series was stopped (at least for the time being).

Antonik, who hails from New Martinsville, will discuss his latest book and sign copies for those wishing to purchase one at $19.99 per copy. The Lunch With Books program is free and open to the public…..

A FIVE-GAME losing streak rates an invite to the Big Apple’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl where WVU is headed after completing a 7-5 regular season.

Some Mountaineer fans had envisioned a possible Holiday Bowl bid to sunny southern California where San Diego is host. The Holiday committee, however, opted for a Baylor-UCLA matchup. The Bears’ rousing upset of then-unbeaten Kansas State obviously played a pivotal role in that decision.

At Yankee Stadium, West Virginia is a four-point favorite to defeat Syracuse on Saturday the 29th, though we feel Geno Smith and company should upend the Orange by a far more decisive margin.

Gibson may be reached at rgibson@timesleaderon-line.com