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Stargell's father-figure image will be missed

by Danny Carpenter

ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

PITTSBURGH -- It may have been opening day at PNC Park, but the Pittsburgh Pirates entered Monday's game against Cincinnati already with a tremendous loss.

Former Pirates great Willie Stargell passed away early Monday morning after suffering a stroke. He had been battling a kidney disorder, according to officials at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C. He was 61.

"It was a very emotional day," Pirates first-year manager Lloyd McClendon said. "It was one of the toughest days in this game in quite a while."

Affectionately known as "Pops," Stargell was a special baseball advisor to owner Kevin McClatchy and provided a fatherly impact on many of the players.

"This is an emotional time," catcher Jason Kendall said. "But Pops would want us to go out there. He meant a lot to me."

Stargell also played a role with left fielder Brian Giles' adjustment to Pittsburgh when he was first traded to the Pirates in 1998 from Cleveland.

"He told me what it meant to play in Pittsburgh," Giles said. "It's kind of frustrating. He was with us when we closed up the old place (Three Rivers Stadium). It would have been nice if he was here today."

n WHERE'S THE OFFENSE?: After a two-game explosion over the weekend at Enron Field in Houston, the Pirates offense faltered in its inaugural game at the new park.

The Pirates, who entered the game batting .234 as a team, finished the game 6-for-32 (.188).

"We've hit the ball pretty good early, but we've had some bad luck," Giles said.

Cincinnati outfielders Michael Tucker and Alex Ochoa each made diving catches during the game, and the Reds turned a crucial double play in the seventh inning to end a Pirates rally.

n YOUNG ARMS DELIVER: While four-fifths of the Pirates rotation is on the disabled list, two young pitchers excelled over the weekend.

Bronson Arroyo and Joe Beimel each picked up wins in Houston.

"I'm not surprised," pitcher Kris Benson said. "We have good pitchers all the way up through (our system).

"You can't ask much more from the young guys with four of us out right now."

Benson (elbow), Francisco Cordova (elbow), Jason Schmidt (abdominal strain) and Terry Mulholland (MCL left knee) are all on the 15-day DL.

"When two or three of us get back, it will help to get the team ready for a divisional playoff race," Benson said.

Assistant sports editor Danny Carpenter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at dcarpenter@exponent-telegram.com.

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