Pirates 2016: In Clint They Trust

A team that doesn't spend enough money to achieve its goals is blessed with a manager who may take them to the promised land anyway.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates/Dave Arrigo

The Pirates haven’t exactly picked up where they left off in Bradenton.

Not with the hole they’ll have in the infield until Jung Ho Kang regains his health. Not with the black hole they’ll have at first base until they can find their “Moneyball” equivalent of Scott Hatteberg (or until Josh Bell gets to the big leagues). And not with Jeff Locke, Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong penciled in behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano in the starting rotation.

But the Bucs are beginning again in 2016 after having made three consecutive trips to the postseason, and in Vogelsong’s estimation that means something.

“You have to prepare yourself to be a champion and I feel like we’re doing that here right now,” Vogelsong assessed. “I’ve heard that a lot around here, ‘championship preparation,’ and I think that’s a great term. I feel like these guys in here grasp it and they understand it.

“That’s what we’re working towards.”

The first time Vogelsong arrived from the Giants, it was as a part of the Jason Schmidt salary dump in 2001. The Pirates were mired in what would become a 20-year losing streak back then, and Vogelsong was a Major League wannabe who had just turned 24, one that was in over his head.

He’s back this time of his own free-agency will, and he’s returned with the perspective of a two-time World Series champion.

“The one thing that drew me to this team was the way they play the game,” Vogelsong said. “You know when you come to play the Pirates now you’re in for a dogfight. Sitting on the other side watching the team play the last couple years, it’s all-out for nine innings or however many innings it takes.”

The change in the atmospheric conditions at PNC Park has, likewise, been striking.

“The energy in the ballpark is completely different,” Vogelsong continued. “Coming into Pittsburgh the last few years and playing there, the energy in the ballpark is amazing.”

So the Pirates have that going for them, which is nice.

But their most encouraging asset – beyond Cole, beyond the back end of the bullpen and beyond an outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco that still hasn’t collectively peaked – is the guy in the dugout who has brought it all together and at times seemingly willed the franchise transformation into reality.

Manager Clint Hurdle’s had a lot of help working his magic the last three seasons, in the front office, on his coaching staff and on the field.

But one thing Hurdle has never stopped doing is believing.

He’s not about to this season, either, even without Pedro Alvarez.

“The thing that I like the most about Clint that I’ve seen so far is his energy,” Vogelsong said. “He has a lot of energy, man, and it rubs off on the players.

“The biggest thing that a manager can be is, you’re the head, you are the top of the chain. And from what I’ve seen in the past, a team feeds off its manager. As long as he stays the way he is – I don’t see him changing anytime soon – and he keeps bringing that energy every day it’s going to rub off on the players.

“Guys respond to that and they play hard for people that have energy and back their guys.

Every conversation I’ve had with him so far, he’s all about being behind the players and having their backs. That goes a long way with a player, for sure. I’ve had it both ways. I’ve had the guy that doesn’t have your back and it definitely affects you in a negative way.”

The Pirates still don’t spend enough money.

And as a result they make accomplishing what they’re trying to accomplish harder than it needs to be.

But rather than succumb to that, Hurdle works around it (as does General Manager Neal Huntington).

And the relentlessness Hurdle applies toward that end has a tendency to resonate.

Maybe that’s why the Pirates have been able to overachieve the last three seasons (especially last season, when no one was predicting they’d win 98 games back in spring training).

In Clint They Trust.

Maybe that’ll go a long way again this season.

“I’m excited about his energy,” Vogelsong said. “I’m excited about the thought process that we’ve talked about as far as the way he goes about his business and I see good things from this team.

“I’m really excited to be back here and I can’t wait for that first day on April 3.”

Play ball.


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section