Stealing Hope

Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates’ newest last great hope.



Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates

The savior of the Pittsburgh Pirates is huddled over a television monitor at the foot of his locker. Wearing giant headphones, he has tuned out the commotion of the clubhouse—teammates playing cards, watching SportsCenter and wisecracking before the morning warm-up. The man some fans compare with the late Pirates legend Roberto Clemente is in a state of intense concentration, staring hard at the flickering screen as if it’s a trigonometry test.

Andrew McCutchen is not watching game film or scouting opponents. He finished that homework hours before when he first arrived at PNC Park. He is doing what nearly every other 23-year-old does to pass the time—playing the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox.

“This is my pre-game routine,” McCutchen explains. “This is what I do to relax and get in the right frame of mind.” The center fielder’s reflexes on the sticks are nearly as impressive as his preposterous agility on the diamond, where he stole 22 bases last season in only 108 games, good for 15th in the National League.

Yet despite winning the Baseball America Rookie of the Year Award and shouldering the hopes of thousands of downtrodden Pirates fans, McCutchen is still a kid. He thinks the savior talk is nonsense. “That’s the Lord’s work,” he smiles.

The one teammates call “Cutch” is a quiet soul who nearly speaks in a whisper. Watch him round the bases, kicking up a Tasmanian dust cloud, and it’s easy to conjure memories of Clemente’s furious grace, his symmetrical poetry in motion. McCutchen, like Clemente, doesn’t run in the shambling, violent way mortals do. He floats.

Growing up in Fort Meade, Fla., a small, swampy town with one red light, McCutchen wasn’t very familiar with Clemente. Truth be told, he wasn’t even a huge baseball fan as a kid. He had no sports idols or posters on the wall. His only hero was his father, Lorenzo, a youth minister and former running back for Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. “My parents taught me morals and about life—especially not taking anything for granted,” says McCutchen, who sung in the church choir while in high school and often signs autographs with Bible verses.

Those lessons would serve McCutchen well during his sophomore season at Fort Meade High School when he blew out two ligaments in his knee, ending his baseball season and shattering his major-league dreams. “I wasn’t betting on making a living off of baseball. My injury showed me that the dream can be taken away that quickly,” he says.

Fortunately, the undersized, small-town slugger returned from his injury stronger than ever, posting an incredible .703 batting average during his senior season in 2004. His gaudy numbers, blinding speed and good grades earned him a scholarship to the University of Florida, but after being selected by the Pirates in the first round of the 2005 draft, McCutchen faced a dilemma: He could go to college and re-enter the draft after graduation, or he could join the club where so many bright prospects before him have wilted into obscurity.

Thankfully for Pittsburgh, McCutchen has little regard for history. He signed with the Pirates with two simple goals: “Win a roster spot and win ball games.”

Because he’s now knee-deep in his first full season in the big leagues, reporters love to ask him about Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series—the ill-fated loss to the Atlanta Braves that sent the Pirates franchise into a 17-year tailspin. McCutchen just smiles. When Atlanta’s Sid Bream slid into home plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, breaking the hearts of Pirates Nation, McCutchen wasn’t watching. He was six.

“That past is not our past,” he says of the team’s storied mediocrity. “We’re just focused on the next game, on fighting and turning some heads.”

Watching McCutchen rag on teammate Lastings Milledge for the virtual beating he just gave him on the Xbox, there’s a fleeting feeling Pirates fans have been afraid to acknowledge for the past decade: Hope.

Forget the potential. Forget “up-side,” prospects, five-year plans and all the marketing buzzwords that make weatherworn Pirates fans groan. Maybe the future really is here. Maybe the secret to changing the culture at PNC Park is to substitute videotape sessions for video-game sessions. To steal bases as if there is nothing to lose (because there isn’t). To throw small-ball out the window and embrace Sandlot-ball.

When McCutchen flashes an easy smile and repeats the cliché that he’s “just going to take it one game at a time,” it’s hard not to believe him. It is time that management shared his humble optimism. A league-low $35-million payroll may have the club in the black, but losing has a way of making even choir boys see red. The Pirates spend as much in 2010 as the New York Yankees did in 1991. Just as unfair comparisons of McCutchen to Clemente need to be adjusted for inflation, so too does the Pirates’ budget.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.
Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Riverlife hopes the temporary project will lead to permanent, decorative lighting of all three of the city's Sister bridges.
Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

It's the first MTV nomination for the 17-year-old singing sensation.
Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Richard Kohl devoted most of his adult life to caring for homeless large-breed dogs.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Part craft-cocktail joint and part coffee bar, the welcoming spot wants you to stay a while.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Although NFL teams never simply pick up where they left off the previous season, there’s reason to believe the 2016 Steelers could resemble the team that came agonizingly close to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos in Denver last January.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

This Pittsburgh bride brought all the details together for a flawless “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Real estate crowd-funding platform Small Change Pittsburgh is raising funds to transform the Butler Street building.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments