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 ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

The video is part of the city's effort to snag Amazon's second headquarters, which is expected to bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment..

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Executive Chef Kevin Sousa and Pastry Chef Kate Carney are cooking sourdough pizza in an outdoor brick oven.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

While we all know and love the grandeur of the fountain at Point State Park, there are many hidden fountain gems throughout the city. These are a few of our lesser-known favorites.

Comments


A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A review of "DODO," the immersive-theater production currently taking place at the Carnegie Museums by Bricolage Production Company.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

The team is more than capable of beating the Bengals Sunday, but are they willing to keep their eye on the ball long enough to begin stacking victories again for a change?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

Robert Hallett, Goldsmith, handcrafts the jewelry in his Oakmont shop.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Reviews of "Only the Brave" and "The Florida Project," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

In honor of fall, we’re showcasing three couples whose proposals involved one of the best things about the season: pumpkins.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Interior designers share their tips on creating easy, elegant décor that will take you from Halloween through Thanksgiving.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module