- Location: Altoona, PA
- League: Eastern League 1999-2019; Double-A Northeast 2021; Eastern League 2022-
- Affiliation: Pittsburgh Pirates 1999-present
- Ballpark: Peoples Natural Gas Field 1999-present
The Altoona Curve, of the Eastern League and briefly in Double-A Northeast, are the 1999 expansion franchise that was originally headed for Springfield, MA. The Pittsburgh Pirates farmhands play their home games at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona, PA.
After Springfield declined to build a stadium, Altoona scored the franchise and then beat expansion-mate Erie for the locally coveted Pirates' affiliation.
The Curve nickname is a double entendre tying in to the city's historic railroad landmark as well as baseball: the curveball and the nearby 360-degree Horseshoe Curve. The 1854 railing marvel, a tremendous feat of engineering in its day, joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It greatly reduces the incline of a 122-foot climb by going nearly a half a mile around and thus more gradually up the mountain. Between that Curve and the city's rich railroad history, the area boasts the "best train watching in America".
On April 2, 2002, a group headed by Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg bought the Curve. Co-owners include Pittsburgh Penguins hockey great Mario Lemieux, former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis, Altoona businessmen Steve Sheetz and Don DeVoris.
In 2005, the group established the State College Spikes as a sister franchise in the New York-Pennsylvania League. Both teams were affiliated with the Pirates until Pittsburgh dropped the Spikes after the 2011-2012 affiliation cycle.
The first game in Curve history took place on April 9, 1999 in Reading, PA. The game against the Reading Phillies was suspended on a rain delay and completed the next day as part of a doubleheader. The Curve lost their first game, 6-2, but made up for it with their first win just a couple of hours later with a 6-4 victory in game two of the April 10 twinbill.
The Altoona Curve, like many minor league teams, have become somewhat well-known for unique and odd promotions. In 2006, the Curve held promotions such as Frivolous Law Suit Night, in which thousands of fans went home with prizes mocking famous frivolous suits and one fan won his own frivolous law suit with a local law firm. The Curve also hosted several Awful Promotion Nights throughout the season. Events of these nights included Autograph Sessions with Non-Celebrities, competitions where a select group of lucky fans get to try and catch dead fish as they are launched from oversized slingshots, and "Bobbing for Onions".
Awful Night IV of the 2006 season outdid the previous three events. The first 1,000 fans through the gates received an 8x10 color glossy photo of Altoona Curve General Manager Todd Parnell's gall bladder. Mr. Parnell underwent gall bladder surgery in the off season, and was gracious enough to share his experience with Curve fans. One lucky fan actually won the real thing! That's right, at the end of the game a complete stranger went home with the disembodied gall bladder of Mr. Parnell!
In their first season, Altoona outscored their opponents 695-649 but Marty Brown's club finished last in the southern division of the EL at 67-73. They drew 323,932 fans, 6th in the 12-team league. While they had no All-Stars, Bronson Arroyo (15-4, 3.65) tied for the league lead in wins and was 9th in ERA. OF Adam Hyzdu (.316/~.387/.612) was fifth in the league in average and probably higher in slugging. OF Tike Redman (.269/~.334/.368) led the EL with 12 triples, scored 84 runs and stole 29 bases in 45 tries. Meanwhile, C-1B-OF-DH Craig Wilson (.268/~.341/.508) joined Hyzdu in the 20-homer club.
Rising to fourth in the southern division at 74-68 in their second year under Brown, Altoona drew 333,968 fans (6th in the league). They missed the playoffs by one game. Hyzdu (.290/.405/.554) led the EL in total bases (285), extra-base hits (72), homers (31) and RBI (106) while tying Cesar Crespo for the run lead (96). He drew 94 walks and hit 39 doubles as well. Wilson Guzman (10-4, 3.02, 6th in ERA) and Sam McConnell (9-2, 1.61, not among the ERA qualifiers) were the EL's two All-Star left-handed starters while Hyzdu was an All-Star outfielder. Also playing well was utility man Rob Mackowiak (.297/.332/.449, 18 SB, 82 R, 87 RBI). Hyzdu's number would later be the first retired by the Curve.
Altoona fell to 63-79 and fifth in the South in Dale Sveum's first year at the helm. They remained sixth in attendance (348,316). It was not a great year for top prospects going by their initials - J.J. Davis hit .250/.317/.386 and J.R. House .258/.323/.399 with 103 strikeouts. 33-year-old Mike Garcia was one of the bright spots (2-0, 4 saves, 0.45 ERA in 18 games) while Dave Williams was a solid 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA in nine contests.
Sveum's team improved to 72-69, 4th in the southern division of the 2002 Eastern League. 363,871 fans showed up, fifth-most in the EL. The season started on a birght note when Adrian Burnside, Neal McDade and Chris Spurling no-hit the high-scoring Akron Aeros 2-0. Overall, Altoona scored 642 and allowed 618. Their .978 fielding percentage led the EL. OF Tony Alvarez was 2nd in the league in average (.318/.361/.483, 37 2B, 15 HR, 29 SB) and made the All-Star team, as did 1B Carlos Rivera (.302/.345/.500, 22 HR, 10th in average). Davis (.287/.351/.526) cracked 20 homers in making significant strides at the plate. Spurling (4-3, 20 Sv, 2.19, 12 BB in 70 IP, .210 opponent average) led the staff.
Sveum's team finished second in the southern part of the EL in 2003 (78-63) but fell 3-1 in the playoffs to Akron. Altoona scored 636 while allowing 525, the fewest in the EL. Landon Jacobsen (9-11, 2.93) was second in ERA while All-Star LHP Sean Burnett (14-6, 3.21) was fifth and led the loop in victories. John VanBenschoten (6-0, 2.22), Ian Snell (10-3, 3.33), Brady Borner (4-1, 1.68), Bobby Bradley (3-2, 3.40) and Bryan Bullington (8-4, 3.05) were among the other fine arms on a staff featuring 4 former first-round picks (Bradley, Burnett, Bullington, van Benschoten). They also had a solid all-around offense with OF Vic Buttler (.285/.360/.382, 22 SB), C Ryan Doumit (.275/.351/.434, 38 2B, 77 RBI), 2B Jeff Keppinger (.325/.365/.424), OF Nate McLouth (.300/.386/.411, 85 R, 40 SB in 44 tries), 1B/C Chris Shelton (.359/.478/.641, 21 HR) and 1B/DH Walter Young (.278/.348/.462, 20 HR, 87 RBI). Had he qualified in plate appearances, Shelton would have led the EL in average, OBP and slugging; he was only three homers shy of the league lead.
Altoona won the division in 2004 under new manager Tony Beasley; 394,062 fans put them fifth in the EL in drawing power. In the playoffs, they beat the Erie SeaWolves 3 games to 0 but they fell 3 games to 0 in the finals to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, dropping two of the games by one run and the last by two. The Curve outscored opponents 697-636, finishing second to Erie in runs scored. McLouth (.322/.384/.462, 93 R, 166 H, 40 2B, 73 RBI, 31 SB) was fourth in average and led the league in doubles, runs and hits. Outfield mate Chris Duffy (.309/.37/.439, 32 SB, 84 R) was 7th in average and led outfielders in fielding percentage (.993). Snell (11-7, 3.16) was 6th in ERA. Keppinger hit .337/.387/.413 in 81 games before being traded - he won the batting title between his two teams, the first EL multi-team player to win a batting championship in 81 years. Keppinger made the All-Star team. Zach Duke (5-1, 1.58) dazzled in 9 starts. First-round selections Bullington (12-7, 4.10) and Bradley (5-4, 3.11) were less successful than the former low draft choice.
With a 671-652 edge in runs in 2005, Altoona finished second in the southern division. Beasley's team fell 3 games to 2 to Akron in the playoffs. 390,239 fans came out, fifth-most in EL once more. Tom Gorzelanny (8-5, 3.26) finished 9th in ERA. The Curve's 155 steals led the league, the vast majority coming from co-league leaders Rajai Davis (.281/.351/.369, 82 R, 45 for 54 in SB tries) and Rich Thompson (.257/.330/.344, 45 for 51 in stealing). The power was provided by 3B Jose Buatista (.283/.364/.503, 23 HR, 90 RBI), 1B Josh Bonifay (.282/.339/.556, 25 HR, 77 RBI) and 2B Craig Stansberry (.238/.314/.470, 11 triples, 18 HR). Matt Peterson (11-9, 5.51) led the league in runs allowed (102).
Altoona made their fourth playoff appearance. New manager Tim Leiper's team was 75-64, again second to Akron in the southern division. Akron again beat them in the playoffs 3 games to 2. Altoona scored 607 and allowed 561. Jacobsen (14-9, 3.21) was fifth in the EL in ERA and second in victories. Buttler (.292/.345/.445, 21 SB in 24 tries) led the league with 14 triples and was sixth in average, while OF-1B-DH Brett Roneberg (.303/.379/.430) finished second in batting average. The lone All-Star was Shane Youman (7-2, 1.51, one save in 23 games) while Brandon Knight (2-7, 27 Sv, 86 K in 64 IP, 2.25) led the EL in saves. Three of the top Pirates prospects were called up late in the year - C Neil Walker (.161/.188/.355 in 10 games), OF Andrew McCutchen (.308/.379/.474 in 20 games despite being Altoona's youngest player to that point at age 19) and SS Brian Bixler (.301/.363/.407 in 60 games).
Altoona was treated to visits by almost all of Pittsburgh's top prospects in 2007. Walker and McCutchen began the year with the team and were soon joined by slugging 1B Steve Pearce and later OF Jason Delaney; only Delaney finished the year in Altoona. Delaney hit .265/.370/.404, Pearce .334/.400/.586 with 72 RB in 81 games, McCutchen .258/.327/.383 with 17 steals in 18 tries and Walker .288.362/.462 with 30 doubles and 77 runs while playing his first year at third base. Luis Muñoz led the staff with a 12-5, 3.73 record while closer Matt Peterson was 4-2 with 29 saves and a 1.97 ERA. Munoz finished 8th in the EL in ERA and Pearce would have led in average had he qualified. Baseball America rated McCutchen the #2 prospect and most exciting player in the EL and Walker the #9 prospect. Peterson was the team's only post-season All-Star selection.
Altoona had a miserable year in 2008. They went 65-77 and only the Reading Phillies were worse in the EL. They were outscored 666-539, posting the worst offense in the league, 80 fewer runs than any other team. No one hit more than 12 homers or had more than 52 RBI. Delaney (.292/.403/.422) was the top hitter. Juan Mateo (7-1, 5 Sv, 2.12) led the staff, which was below league average but far better than the offense.
Altoona started slowly, only winning a third of their games in the first couple months. The bright spot was Brad Lincoln, a former #1 draft pick, who was posting great ERAs but getting little offensive support. When he was moved up to AAA in late June, Altoona got Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh's first-rounder in 2008. After going 28-54 before Alvarez's promotion, the Curve were 34-26 after he came on board, as he hit .333/.419/.590 for the club, as he fueled their turnaround by himself.
Altoona's first game of 2010 drew significant notice as they faced Stephen Strasburg, the #1 pick of the prior draft. They scored four runs in five innings off Strasburg but Rudy Owens and Dustin Molleken could not contain the Harrisburg Senators offense in a loss. Altoona finished with the best record in the West Division at 82-60 then topped both the Harrisburg Senators and Trenton Thunder in the postseason. They were second in the EL in ERA (3.55) thanks to All-Star LHP Rudy Owens (12-6, 2.46, 1st in ERA) and Justin Wilson (11-8, 3.09). Daniel Moskos (3-1, 21 Sv, 1.52) and Michael Dubee (6-2, 5 Sv, 2.24) led the bullpen. The offense was 5th in runs (688) with All-Star catcher Hector Gimenez (.305/.384/.533, 16 HR, 72 RBI in 94 G) leading the way and solid help from 1B Matt Hague (.295/.375/.442, 15 HR, 86 RBI) and 3B Josh Harrison (.300/.345/.398, 74 R, 75 RBI). Wilson was named postseason MVP. Bryan Morris (6-4, 4.25) and Owens were named the league's #14 and #15 prospects, respectively, by Baseball America.
2011 marked a big drop-off for Altoona at 64-77, next-to-last in the EL. The staff was in the middle of the pack in ERA (3.95) but the offense tied for last with 574 runs. They did benefit from seeing Starling Marte (.332/.370/.500, 38 2B, 8 3B, 24 SB, 91 R, 18 A), an All-Star outfielder and the EL batting champion. Baseball America named him the #7 prospect in the circuit. Former first-rounder Tony Sanchez hit a disappointing .241/.340/.318. Mike Colla (5-11, 3.70) finished 8th in ERA and Kyle McPherson (8-5, 3.02) just made the top-20 prospect list.
In Forbes' second season at the helm, Altoona finished in the middle of the pack at 72-70. Their staff again outperformed the hitters, placing third in ERA (3.65) while the offense's 605 runs tied for 6th in the 12-team league. They again had one All-Star and it was again the league's batting champion, this time SS Brock Holt (.322/.389/.432). The top supporting player was 1B Matt Curry (.285/.352/.480, 34 2B). Among the staff highlights were two first-rounders, Vic Black (2-3, 13 Sv, 1.65, the league leader in games pitched, lowest average and K/9) and Gerrit Cole (3-6, 2.90) while Phil Irwin (4-7, 2.93) also suffered from poor support. Fellow first-rounder Jameson Taillon was excellent in three late-season starts (3-0, 1.59). Cole was picked as the EL's #3 prospect by Baseball America, the team's only one to make the list.
Altoona got a new skipper (Carlos Garcia) in 2013 but slumped to 63-79. They had the second-worst record in the EL (one game ahead of the Reading Fightin Phils) and drew 286,227 fans (8th of 12). Alex Dickerson (.288/.357/.494, 36 2B, 17 HR) was an All-Star outfielder, while Justin Howard (.314/.405/.459) and Andrew Lambo (.291/.351/.559, 46 RBI in 58 G) did well in limited time (Lambo due to promotion). Baseball America listed them as having three of the league's top 20 prospects: OF Gregory Polanco (.263/.354/.407 in 68 G, #7), Taillon (4-7, 3.67, #6) and Nick Kingham (3-3, 2.70, #15). Casey Sadler (11-7, 3.31) finished third in the EL in ERA while David Bromberg (6-12, 3.51) was 7th. The team was 5th in the EL in ERA (3.92) but scored the fewest runs (569).
With Carlos Garcia still at the helm, Altoona remained 8th in attendance (275,823) and again had the second-worst record (61-81, 8 games ahead of Harrisburg). Elías Díaz (.328/.378/.445) was the All-Star catcher, #10 prospect and would have been second in average had he qualified. Adrian Sampson (10-5, 2.55) finished second in ERA and was the All-Star starting pitcher. OF Willy Garcia (.271/.311/.478, 18 HR) was named the #17 prospect by Baseball America while Kingham (1-7, 3.04) repeated on the list, this time at #20. They were in the middle of the pack in offense (632 R, 5th) but their ERA rose to 4.00 (9th) and their .971 fielding percentage was last.
Tom Prince took over the reigns for 2015 and the team improved to 74-68, 4th in the EL and winning a playoff spot (though they fell in the first round). Attendance to 302,761, 7th in the loop. Their 603 runs scored were second to Reading with offensive levels down around the league while their ERA of 3.61 was 6th and they again finished last in fielding (.970). Max Moroff (.293/.374/.409) was named Pittsburgh's minor league player of the year, was the All-Star second basemen, led the EL with 79 runs and was 9th in average. While they had no other All-Stars, SS/CF Adam Frazier was second in average (.324/.384/.416) and 1B Josh Bell (.307/.376/.427) fifth, Altoona leading the EL in average and placing second in OBP. The staff was led by Tyler Glasnow (5-3, 2.43, 82 K in 63 IP) before his promotion to AAA. Chad Kuhl (11-5, 2.48) finished third in ERA while Steven Brault was 9-3 with a 2.00 ERA. Baseball America listed Glasnow as the league's #4 prospect and Bell as #20.
Joey Cora succeeded Prince and the Curve had another fine year (76-64, 1/2 a game back of the Akron RubberDucks in the western division) while attendance fell markedly to 272,640 (again 7th). They were 4th with 616 runs and allowed 598 (tied for 6th-fewest) while leading in fielding at .980. 2B Erich Weiss (.276/.352/.408) and 3B Eric Wood (.249/.339/.443, 16 HR) made the EL All-Star team, Cody Dickson (10-5, 3.66) was 7th in ERA and outfielders Harold Ramírez (.311/.360/.407 between Altoona and one game for New Hampshire after a trade) and Barrett Barnes (.306/.377/.477) finished 5-6 in the batting race. Baseball America rated another outfielder, Austin Meadows (.311/.365/.611, 33 R in 45 G) as the league's #3 prospect while SS Kevin Newman (.288/.361/.378) was rated #19.
Under Michael Ryan, Altoona had a worse record than the prior two years (74-66) but won the division then swept the Bowie Baysox in three games in the semifinals and swept the Thunder in three more to win the title, their second (both times beating Trenton in the finals). Mitch Keller and Brandon Waddell provided big pitching in the playoffs and C Jin-De Jhang's 3-run triple was the major hit in the finale. In the regular season, Altoona scored 584 runs (only 8th in the 12-team league) but allowed just 563 (3rd-fewest) while fielding .981 (3rd). Austin Coley (6-4, 3.01) was 4th in the EL in ERA, Tanner Anderson (10-8, 3.38) tied for 6th and Alex McRae (10-5, 3.61) 10th. Newman struggled in a return (.259/.310/.359) and the lone All-Star was 1B Edwin Espinal (.283/.322/.474) but Kevin Kramer (.297/.380/.500 in 53 G) and Jordan Luplow (.287/.368/.535, 16 HR in 73 G) were the top hitters. Fine relief came from Montana DuRapau (2-2, 14 Sv, 1.49), Miguel Rosario (3-1, 3 Sv, 1.80), Buddy Borden (5-1, Sv, 2.37) and Tate Scioneaux (6-5, 14 Sv, 2.39).
Ryan's team was sharp again in 2018 at 78-60, the best record in the western division, but they fell to the Akron RubberDucks in the playoffs. Attendance was 297,118, 8th in the league. The Curve scored 613 runs (tied for 6th) but led in fielding (.985) and allowed 567 runs, second-fewest. Three Altoona infielders led their position in fielding: 1B Will Craig (.993), SS Cole Tucker (.973) and 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes (.978). OF Bryan Reynolds (.302/.381/.438) was 5th in the EL in average and Hayes (.293/.375/.444, 31 2B) was 8th. 1B Craig (.248/.321/.448, 20 HR) led the league with 102 RBI and was the All-Star there while Hayes tied Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of New Hampshire as the All-Star third baseman. Tucker (.259/.333/.356) led the EL with 35 steals. Three Curve players made the Baseball America top prospect list: Hayes at #4, Keller (9-2, 2.72) #6 (he would have led in ERA had he qualified) and Taylor Hearn (3-6, 3.12, 107 K in 104 IP) at #19.
Altoona slipped to 69-71 in 2019, 4th in their division, though attendance rose to 308,464 (7th). They scored 544 runs and allowed 563, again leading in fielding percentage (.982). They had none of the top 20 prospects in the EL and only one All-Star, OF Jared Oliva (.277/.352/.398, 36 SB, 0 E). 3B Hunter Owen hit a solid .295/.369/.565 to lead the offense. Cam Vieaux was 4-4 with a 2.23 ERA while Pedro Vasquez (8-5, 2.71) was 4th in the EL in ERA.
- Brock Helander: "The History of Baseball in Altoona, Pennsylvania", The Baseball Record Journal, SABR, Volume 41, Number 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 45-49.