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Bob Nutting’s awkward smile: Pirates fan explains how ‘Sell the team’ video happened

PITTSBURGH — When 18-year-old fan Colin Witte went to the Pirates game Wednesday night at PNC Park, he didn’t expect to meet team owner Bob Nutting. But Witte dressed for the occasion, just in case.

Witte, of Mt. Lebanon, wore an old-school Barry Bonds jersey with a black T-shirt underneath. Written on the shirt in the Pirates’ signature font are three words: Sell the team.

A not-so-subtle message to Nutting.

“I’m not a big fan of Bob Nutting,” Witte said. “I didn’t know he still goes to the games. I just thought he doesn’t care that much about the Pirates anymore.”

As Witte and his family surfed the pregame buffet in the Home Plate Club, his older brother Will nudged him and pointed across the room: “Yo, Colin. I think that’s Bob Nutting over there.”

The brothers quickly hatched a plan to take a photo with Nutting and put the T-shirt front and center. Witte waited until Nutting finished eating, then walked over to ask for the photo op. Nutting happily obliged.

Just before his brother snapped the shot, Witte opened the front of his jersey and stuck out his chest. Nutting glanced at the slogan on the shirt — and then did a double-take.

Nutting managed to smile for the camera, but there was no hiding the awkwardness of the moment.

“He looked at me and said, ‘All right, OK,’ and that was it,” Witte said. “He had to know what the shirt meant, but he didn’t call me out about it. He didn’t do anything. He didn’t say anything. After we took the picture, I went back to what I was doing and he went back to what he was doing.”

Colin Witte’s family at the game. From left: his father, Bill Witte; Colin Witte; his brother Aidan Witte; his brother Will Witte and Will’s girlfriend, Maddie Weber. (Courtesy of Colin Witte)

When Witte found his seat in the section behind home plate, he played the video. He and Will had a good laugh, then they posted it on Twitter.

“I thought I’d send the video to all my family members and they’d get a chuckle out of it,” Witte said. “I thought maybe a couple of people would see it on Twitter.”

It went viral, of course. As of Friday afternoon, Witte’s tweet had more than 8,200 likes and 2,100 retweets. YouTube sports analyst Pat McAfee, a Pittsburgh native and former NFL player, sent Witte a direct message on Twitter lauding the video.

In a way, McAfee helped inspire Witte to confront Nutting. A couple of years ago, Witte bought the “Sell the team” T-shirt through McAfee’s web site. Witte said he goes to 20-plus games each season, and often wears the shirt.

“On Wednesday, I was wearing it on purpose, hoping for an opportunity like this,” Witte said. “I wanted to speak for all of Pittsburgh and relay the message of how frustrated we fans are. I saw my opportunity to make my mark and I went for it.”

Witte has become a folk hero among long-suffering Pirates fans. His social media exploits could come in handy this fall when Witte begins his freshman year at Indiana University-Bloomington, where he plans to study sports media.

Witte’s father, Bill Witte, has been a Pirates season ticket-holder for several years, and Colin has always tagged along to games.

“It sucks that my greatest memory up to this point is only a 2013 wild-card (game) victory,” Colin Witte said. “That’s why I did this. I felt like I was speaking for all of Pittsburgh. Something needs to happen to get this ship rolling because the fans still care. I don’t think Bob Nutting cares.”

Nutting and the Pirates did not respond to a request for comment from The Athletic. Witte hasn’t heard anything from the team, either, though he was a little worried he might get tossed out of PNC Park.

“That crossed my mind, but, then again, I was respectful and didn’t do anything wrong,” Witte said. “I went to another ballgame the next day, and I didn’t even get noticed. I leave for college next week, so I’m just trying to enjoy some baseball before I go.”

(Top photo courtesy of Colin Witte)

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