CURVE, Pa. – The first years of the Curve franchise saw many players make their way to the majors, but Jack Wilson was one of the first players to cross through Altoona and become a star with the Pirates.
Last fall, Wilson was voted as the Fans’ Choice All-Time Curve Team Shortstop, beating out Luis Figueroa (1999-2000), Jose Castillo (2003), Chase d’Arnaud (2010, 2013), Jordy Mercer (2010-2011), Gift Ngoepe (2013-2015) and Adam Frazier (2015).
Wilson was traded from the Cardinals to the for Jason Christiansen late in the 2000 season, and he reported to Altoona immediately after the trade to begin Pirates organization career.
Lloyd McClendon, who was the Pirates’ hitting coach at the time, had managed Wilson in fall league play the year before.“He’s a scrap-iron type of guy with an exceptional glove,” McClendon said after the trade. “He catches and throws the ball well. He’s a hitter who has an idea of what he’s doing. He has a lot of potential.”
Curve manager Marty Brown set Wilson as the team’s starting shortstop when he arrived in town.
“I’ve heard good things about him,” Brown said to the Altoona Mirror in 2000. “I’ve heard that he’s a very athletic kid. It sounds to me like a lot of people feel strongly about this kid.”
Wilson joined the team in Portland on August 2, 2000, and immediately made an impact. He drove a tie-breaking, two-run double in the fifth inning to help lift the Curve to a 4-3 win over the Sea Dogs. Three days later, he made a diving catch at shortstop to escape a bases-loaded jam in another 4-3 win in Portland.
His defensive play at shortstop helped the Curve climb into the postseason race late in the franchise’s second season.
“I made it a major point to get my defense where it needs to be to be at the big-league level,” Wilson told the Altoona Mirror in August 2000. “You can hit .400, but if you can’t field a ground ball, you’re not going to go anywhere.”
His batting average hovered in the .230s over his first few weeks with the Curve, but Wilson came through with some clutch hits later in the month as he heated up at the plate. Over a seven-game stretch, he hit .394 to help lift the Curve into sole possession of second place in the division late in August.
As the calendar turned to September, the Curve controlled their own destiny heading into the season’s final series against Akron at home. On the final day of the regular season, the Curve were in a three-way tie with Akron and Harrisburg for a shot to play in the postseason.
In the series finale in Altoona, the Aeros pulled ahead, 2-1, with two outs in the top of the ninth. A groundout by Wilson in the bottom of the inning with the tying run on base was the play that ended the season for the Curve. They lost their final three games to Akron, barely missing out on the franchise’s first-ever postseason appearance.
“It’s tough,” Wilson told the Altoona Mirror after the loss. “You always want to go to the postseason and play of a championship. But there’s nothing to be ashamed about. We didn’t win the game, but we had a great year.”
For the season, Wilson hit .252 with 16 RBIs over 33 games.
After leaving Altoona, Wilson earned a call to the big leagues with his performance in spring training in 2001. He made his MLB debut as Pittsburgh’s Opening Day starting shortstop on April 3, 2001 against the Reds.
Wilson spent a month in the big leagues before being sent down to Triple-A in early May. After tuning up up in the minors, he returned to the big leagues for good in June.
Wilson went on to play nine seasons with the Pirates from 2001 through 2009. He won a Silver Slugger Award and was selected as a National League All-Star in 2004. Throughout his career with the Pirates, “Jack Flash” wowed fans with stellar defensive play on the infield.
In 2008, Wilson returned to the Curve on a rehab assignment after a calf injury, playing in seven games.
“I really enjoyed my time here,” Wilson said. “The fans were awesome.
“They love their baseball, they love their Curve. That’s always been the way I remembered.”
In 2009, the Pirates traded Wilson to the Mariners. He played parts of three seasons with Seattle before closing out his career with the Braves in 2012.
Wilson spent 12 seasons in the big leagues, combining to hit .265 with 61 homers and 426 RBIs in 1,370 games.
On Saturday, Wilson returns to PNG Field to meet with fans who cheered him on in the early years of the Curve and the formative years of his professional career. The first 1,000 fans will take home the Jack Wilson Fans’ Choice All-Time Curve Team bobblehead, presented by the Altoona Grand Hotel.
The ballpark gates open at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday ahead of the Curve’s 4:30 double-header against the Erie SeaWolves. For tickets or more information, click here, call 877.99.CURVE or stop by the PNG Field box office.