PITTSBURGH (AP) — Forget about Andrew McCutchen's MVP-caliber season. Or the emergence of ace-in-training James McDonald. Or the calming presence of playoff-tested veterans A.J. Burnett and Rod Barajas.
It's all about the Zoltan.
It started the way most of these things start, in a bored clubhouse in the meandering hours before first pitch. A group of players were watching the 2000 movie "Dude, Where's My Car?" — considered the "Citizen Kane" of "pair of slackers lose car/hi-jinks ensue" comedies — before a game in Atlanta in April when second baseman Neil Walker started goofing off by making a "Z" symbol.
The sign — left hand facing out, thumb down, right hand facing in, thumb up — is a tribute to the character Zoltan, an alien whose followers wear bubble wrap jump suits.
Walker started flashing it whenever the Pirates made an impact play. It really took off, however, when Barajas smacked a two-run, walk-off homer against Washington in May. When Barajas crossed home plate, the entire team made the "Z" sign in tribute.
Over the last two months, it's taken on a life of its own. Zoltan t-shirts have become a fixture at PNC Park (where the Pirates have put together the best home record in baseball) and people have taken to flashing the "Z" to manager Clint Hurdle when he's out on a grocery run.
"We Are Family" — the disco anthem the Pirates turned into a touchstone while winning the 1979 World Series — is it not. Though Hurdle hardly cares.
"I think that's just the men taking ownership of what they're doing and having some fun with it," he said.