PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Burnett celebrated the Fourth of July by wearing patriotic red, white and blue sneakers during batting practice. They matched well with the uniform he wore as he sat in the visitor's dugout at PNC Park for the first time since leaving the Pirates.
Burnett was an integral part of the Pirates' franchise turnaround during his two years in the Steel City, and he aided the Bucs to their first playoff appearance in 21 years just nine months ago.
The 37-year-old righty signed a one-year, $16 millon contract with Philadelphia in February, but his return to Pittsburgh -- albeit in visiting colors -- gave Burnett a chance to reflect on his two seasons with the Pirates.
"Coming here and coming to a place where there was a young crew and being one of the older guys, I still give all my thanks to the guys in that locker room and what they thought of me from day one, and even today," said the 16-year Major League veteran. "We stay in touch. It's a special group."
Burnett noted he had a chance to catch up with a few teammates and Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage on Friday morning. Of sitting in the opposing dugout, Burnett said "it's right, but it's wrong," and memories of yesteryear may flood back even more when he takes the mound in the series finale Sunday against close friend and mentee, Jeff Locke.
Burnett has 388 starts for five different teams to his name, but he had a career renaissance with the Pirates. In two seasons with Pittsburgh, Burnett was 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA and 389 strikeouts in 393 1/3 innings. The 3.30 ERA he posted in 2013 matched his best mark of any season during his lengthy Major League career.
"With me, it's all in between the lines," Burnett said. "I think once this place, this city, realized what I gave every time I went out there in between the lines, no matter what, I think that's all they cared about."
What kind of reaction does Burnett expect when he trots between those lines on Sunday?
"Mixed," Burnett said.
"The city took me in," he added, "and they got a right to boo. And they got a right to cheer, too."
Burnett (5-7, 3.92 ERA) heading into the weekend was not enjoying the kind of team success he had last season, as the Phillies entered Pittsburgh 11 games below .500 and 10 games back in the National League East. If the Phillies do sell at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Burnett could be changing uniforms yet again. But he said that was not on his mind.
"I don't have any thoughts on that right now," Burnett said. "That's where my mind is: I can't predict the future. I don't hope for the future, I'm day by day; this is my team."
Brief tenure belies Byrd's connection to Bucs
PITTSBURGH -- Marlon Byrd's time in Pittsburgh was not long, but it was memorable. He made sure of that with one swing of the bat, which sent 40,487 black-clad Pirates fans into a frenzy last October.
Byrd, whom the Bucs acquired from the Mets last August, spent just 30 regular-season games and six postseason games with the Pirates. But he was an important acquisition as the team made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. On Friday, the outfielder stepped into a PNC Park batter's box for the first time since October, striking out in a Phillies uniform in the second inning.
Byrd hit .318/.357/.486 in his 30 regular-season contests with the Pirates, and his second-inning home run off Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto opened the scoring in Pittsburgh's Wild Card Game victory. Byrd, 36, said that game was his favorite memory of the month and a half he called the Steel City home, but he said he cherished "every second."
"It was a great experience, being in this city," he said. "Seeing everyone wearing Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys instead of Steelers jerseys in September was very different for this city."
Byrd, who had a .364 average, .982 OPS and five RBIs in six playoff games -- the first postseason experience of his 13-year career -- signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Phillies this offseason. He said teams were aggressive when trying to sign him and that he thought his strong finish with the Pirates had something to do with it.
"It changed [my career] around," Byrd said. "Not just showing last year, coming back and re-establishing myself. It showed I could play in the playoffs and help a team win. It was huge, especially for a team that was ready to win."
Pirates fans were re-introduced to Byrd on Friday as the Phillies and Bucs opened a three-game set. Byrd entered the series hitting .267 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs this season, and he batted fifth in the Phillies' order.
"One warm reception and then boos after that," Byrd said of what he anticipated from the crowd. "It's a great city with great fans; they love their teams. They know what I did here last year."
• The Pirates announced Friday that they had signed non-drafted free agent Chris Harvey, a catcher from Vanderbilt.
• Friday was the second consecutive Fourth of July meeting between the Pirates and the Phillies. It was the fourth time the Pirates had hosted the Phillies at PNC Park on the date (2005 and 2010). In those three previous meetings, the Pirates were 1-2.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.