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

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

The meat-centric restaurant in the Strip District is helping to redefine Pittsburgh's dining expectations.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Beer News: East End Brewing Moving to Bigger Space in Strip District

Beer News: East End Brewing Moving to Bigger Space in Strip District

The new space, called the East End Brewery Taproom, will offer lunch and dinner service, expanded hours and a place for customers to sit and enjoy a pint of beer from one of the brewery’s 12 taps.
See How Pittsburghers Used to Get Around

See How Pittsburghers Used to Get Around

This rare video gives you a passenger's perspective of street car trolley travel in the 1960s.
Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

In a pair of TV ads, watch the Steelers' running back tackle styling the hair of his two adorable daughters.
Greenlight for Girls Encourages Hands-On STEM Learning

Greenlight for Girls Encourages Hands-On STEM Learning

The international organization partnered with local materials science company Covestro to encourage scientific curiosity for girls.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, 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

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

The meat-centric restaurant in the Strip District is helping to redefine Pittsburgh's dining expectations.
Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

In Lawrenceville, a love for letterpress leads to a business whose greeting cards reach audiences across the country.
Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance and Complaints from 2007

Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance and Complaints from 2007

This third Renaissance has allowed us to be spectators as Pittsburgh changed from a city suffering the damages wrought by the collapse of its steel industry to a vibrant, active place known for its academic, medical and technology sectors.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Beer News: East End Brewing Moving to Bigger Space in Strip District

Beer News: East End Brewing Moving to Bigger Space in Strip District

The new space, called the East End Brewery Taproom, will offer lunch and dinner service, expanded hours and a place for customers to sit and enjoy a pint of beer from one of the brewery’s 12 taps.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

City leaders considered many options for Pittsburgh's confluence including something that looked like it was designed by the Jetsons, or an absolutely bonkers, batpoop insane idea by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Wigle Whiskey Ripe for Expansion with Threadbare

Wigle Whiskey Ripe for Expansion with Threadbare

The Strip District distillers will launch a hard cider business this fall.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


Head to 'Quick and Shameless' For an Unpredictable (and Essential) Night of Pittsburgh Comedy

Head to 'Quick and Shameless' For an Unpredictable (and Essential) Night of Pittsburgh Comedy

The LGBTQ-friendly variety show offers one of the city's most unusual (and often unforgettable) lineups of comedic talent.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
It's Simple This Time, Super Bowl 50 Won't Even be Close

It's Simple This Time, Super Bowl 50 Won't Even be Close

The Panthers are going to get to the Broncos eventually. When that happens, Peyton Manning is going to be forced to throw it. And once that happens, it’s going to get ugly.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Delicate Pieces for the Harsh Winter

Delicate Pieces for the Harsh Winter

Lighten up your look with a cheerful necklace.

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.
George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

Our reviews of "Hail, Caesar!," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "The Choice."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real Pittsburgh Weddings 2016: Seven Adorable Moments

Real Pittsburgh Weddings 2016: Seven Adorable Moments

To coincide with the launch of our Spring 2016 Weddings magazine, we’ve created a Week of Wedded Bliss — seven stories to introduce you to the couples featured in our Real Pittsburgh Weddings. On Day One, we compile seven of our favorite moments.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Pillow Talk: Pittsburgh's Skyline Inspires New Design Line

Pillow Talk: Pittsburgh's Skyline Inspires New Design Line

Check out the new pillow collection from local interior designer Zach Mitchell. Plus, get the scoop on The Pittsburgh Christmas Carol Tour.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

The event is for high school students who are interested in criminal justice, law enforcement and forensic science.

Comments