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Thread: Jayson Stark on the Pirates

      
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    Default Re: Jayson Stark on the Pirates

    Clint Hurdle positive on the Pirates

    Pittsburgh's gone through struggles, but the new manager is looking on the bright side


    By Jayson Stark
    ESPN.com





    CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Nearly every night, the emails arrive in the inboxes of dozens of employees of the Pittsburgh Pirates.Amazingly, they aren't written by any Nigerian princes, telemarketers or online poker champs. They are written by the new manager in town, a fellow named Clint Hurdle. And they all have the same purpose:

    Inspiration.

    His players get them. His bosses get them. Employees who have barely laid eyes on him get them. These must-read pearls of wisdom may not guarantee the Pirates a single win this season. But they do guarantee that everyone who reads these words will have something to think about -- until the next email arrives.

    [IMGR]http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2011/0324/mlb_a_hurdle_200.jpg[/IMGR]The messages Clint Hurdle delivers via email are the same sorts of messages that come pouring out of his soul -- not to mention his vocal cords -- just about every minute of every day:

    Why not us? Why not now?

    You have to eat the elephant one bite at a time.
    To win a ball game, you only have to be better than the team you play that night.
    This is how Clint Hurdle talks. This is how Clint Hurdle thinks. This is how Clint Hurdle lives life -- and leads people.

    Which explains what he's doing in this job in the first place.

    The Pirates have run across many hurdles over the past 18 years, since Sid Bream crossed home plate, and Barry Bonds fled for the West Coast, and all the winning stopped. But this is one Hurdle they have no trouble embracing, because it would be hard to find a franchise in professional sports in more need of inspiration than this one.
    Think of all that's transpired since the last time the Pirates had a winning season: 27 of the other 29 teams have played at least one postseason series. The Yankees have played 152 postseason games. Ninety space shuttle missions have circled the planet. The Steelers and Penguins have gone to the finals of their sport a half-dozen times.

    And six different managers have tried, and failed, to lead the Pirates to the summit of Mount .500.

    Yet 22 months after his firing by the Rockies, Clint Hurdle has come bursting through his new team's door with no trepidation over the challenge, with no fear of the moment. And he's obviously not faking it -- because in his case, the Pirates didn't just choose him. He chose them.

    "I think in life, you come to crossroads," he said, in his ever-booming baritone. "And you have opportunities. And you choose the one that fits you the best, the one where you can have a chance to make a difference."

    So he passed on the chance to return as the hitting coach for a World Series team in Texas. He declined a second interview for the Mets' managerial job. Instead, he zeroed in on the Pirates, grilling both his friends around the sport and the people who were supposed to be interviewing him about where this franchise was headed.
    "They asked tough questions of me, sitting across the desk," he said. "And I asked tough questions of [them]."

    And enough of the right answers came back that here he is, because "these opportunities don't come along very often," he said. "There's not a greater opportunity in all of sports."

    We can't tell you -- and neither can he -- whether this is the man who will finally end the Pirates' unprecedented streak of 18 straight losing seasons. But we can promise you this:

    Clint Hurdle WILL make a difference.

    For one thing, he couldn't possibly represent more of a difference from the manager who preceded him -- the relentlessly low-key John Russell.

    For all his baseball smarts, Russell was a man who took the term "soft-spoken" to a whole new level of quietude. So not only were the people of Pittsburgh never too sure of what he was all about, they were barely even sure what his voice sounded like.
    But let's just say lack of volume won't be an issue for the new manager.

    "He's a big man, with a big voice," said outfielder-first baseman Steve Pearce. "He's a loud guy. But when he talks, people listen."

    And in this case, the Pirates WANT people to listen -- hope, in fact, that they can't stop listening. When it came time to hire this manager, says team president Frank Coonelly, "the force of his personality was very important to us."

    At this point in their history, the Pirates needed a manager who could do a lot more than write out a lineup and flash a squeeze sign. They needed a face, a voice, a presence. They needed a manager who could sell their team and their vision of the future to a fan base that, in Hurdle's words, has been "so beat down for so many years they don't even care who the manager is."

    The idea, of course, is not to make them care who this manager is, either. The idea is to charge toward a brighter tomorrow, behind Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and a core group this team is trying its best to dream on. But until that dream comes true, Hurdle's innate magnetism will just have to do.

    "We all look forward to the time when the players become our face," said general manager Neal Huntington. "But until then, if Clint is out front, that's great."

    At age 53, Hurdle is still a hulking, dominating figure -- a guy you definitely wouldn't want to get into an arm-wrestling duel with. But somehow, it's still that thundering, ring announcer's voice that overpowers you more than his solid, 6-foot-3, tight end's physique. And that's saying something.

    "We have a joke in the organization," Huntington said with a laugh, "that we don't ever want to follow him when we have to give speeches."

    Now, as Hurdle found out personally by living through five straight losing seasons in Colorado before he finally steered the Rockies into the World Series in 2007, the power of personality can only take any manager so far. So just because he's a forceful man with a forceful message, he doesn't want anybody thinking he can charm his way to October.

    "The thing you want to watch out for is trying to be the knight on the white horse," he said, "because that's not reality."

    And just to reinforce that point, he's also quick to quote one of the most heroic figures of his lifetime -- the legendary Popeye the Sailor Man.

    "I need to be who I am," Hurdle said. "I can't be somebody I'm not. So I shared a quote from Popeye the other day: 'I am what I am, and that's all that I am.' In other words, don't be somebody you're not. Bring YOUR skill set. And bring it every day."
    So Hurdle has been serving up his own innovative skill set since the day he showed up beneath the Florida palm trees.

    He's given history lessons on Bill Mazeroski and the Lumber Company, to remind the troops that Pirates history began 129 years ago, not 18 years ago. He's brought in "live" baserunners from the minor league camp to add real-life urgency to rundown drills.

    He's sent every one of his coaches to that minor league camp for a day to work with kids who once felt forgotten. He logged a day in that camp himself, and allowed 73-year-old minor league coach Woody Huyke to manage the big league team in his place. And Hurdle has charged his entire coaching staff with this mission: Bond with these players. Do whatever it takes to forge a connection that keeps this entire locomotive steaming down the same track.

    "I'm not talking about a Kumbaya campfire thing," Hurdle quipped. "We just want to make sure, from a coaching standpoint, we don't have any 'oh-no' coaches here. And by that I mean, we've all had a coach in our life where, when you saw this guy coming, the first thing you thought was, 'Oh, no. Here we go again.' We want to open up the line of communications where they see us walking up to them and they go, 'I wonder what he's got for me today.'"

    And what he's got is an ability to relate to just about anything any of them can possibly experience -- because he's probably experienced it himself, along a 35-year winding road that began with a Sports Illustrated cover spot at age 21, curled through 10 big league seasons and kept spinning until it found its way to this time and place.
    "There isn't much that's happened in the game that I haven't faced," he said. "Good. Bad. Sideways. Up. Down. Personal adversity. Professional adversity. All those things. And personal triumph."

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    Default Re: Jayson Stark on the Pirates

    I am hoping this change of attitude sticks and these kids gel.

    Since I live here in Florida, the Rays and Marlins games are easily available on TV. I started watching a lot of the Rays games about 5 years ago after I got over the Marlins. After watching them lose year after year, it was way cool to watch all those players gel and turn into a great team like last year. I was in attendance for home games 80 and 81 last season and it was so electric at Tropicana those two nights. Felt just like in the 70's when the Buccos were winning.

    I am starting to see a lot of the same parallels with the Pirates that I saw years ago with the Rays. I hope I am right and we some winning baseball in the 'Burgh in a couple of years.

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    Default Re: Jayson Stark on the Pirates

    More proof that Hurdle is the right guy to lead the young guys down the road to winning. A New Era Dawns.
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