Conner pitch highlights Bucs' opener festivities

Former writer Singer remembered as part of moment of silence

Conner pitch highlights Bucs' opener festivities

PITTSBURGH -- If for no other reason than the timing of Francisco Liriano's first pitch, this Opening Day was special for the Pirates.

The Bucs and Cardinals officially began Major League Baseball's 2016 season on Sunday afternoon, standing together in the spotlight at PNC Park as they played the first game on the big league schedule.

To manager Clint Hurdle, the designation showed how far the Pirates have come over the last few years. Pittsburgh has reached the postseason each of the last three seasons. During that time, the Cardinals lead the Majors with 287 wins; the Pirates are second, with 280.

"I just think it's kind of cool that we get to play the first game in the 2016 season," Hurdle said. "It didn't happen in 2011, didn't happen in '12, didn't happen for years before.

"We've provided some tangible evidence to our fan base and Major League Baseball that we're an organization on the rise, and we intend to stay there and move to greater heights."

The usual Opening Day pomp and circumstance further backed Hurdle's words, as the Pirates lined up to accept several postseason awards. Chief among them was Baseball America's "Organization of the Year" honor, a recognition of the Bucs' success at the Major League level and throughout their deep farm system.

Andrew McCutchen received his 2015 National League Silver Slugger Award. Starling Marte brought home his '15 NL Gold Glove Award hardware. Mark Melancon was recognized as the ;15 Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year.

Pirates family members honored

After both clubs took the field, the Pirates paused for a moment of silence to remember those who passed since the end of last season. The group included Joe Garagiola Sr. and reporter Tom Singer, who loyally and earnestly covered the Pirates from 2012-15 before suddenly passing away in early February.

Jackie Evancho sings anthem

Pittsburgh native Jackie Evancho sang the national anthem, and James Conner, the University of Pittsburgh running back battling Hodgkin lymphoma, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to thunderous applause from the hometown fans.

"I just love the fact that it's a guy, a young man in our grasp that has this opportunity, that talked big about this opportunity, that's happy and excited for this opportunity," Hurdle said. "It's another way he can show his perseverance, his resiliency, his strength, his focus to be a part of it. A job well done."

With the pregame ceremonies out of the way, Liriano scaled the mound, threw ball one into the glove of Francisco Cervelli at 1:15 p.m. ET, and a new year of baseball was officially underway.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.