February 2012

High camp, lowdown, Feb. 28: Oops, I did it again

Yesterday, I’d idly mentioned to general manager Neal Huntington what a healthy camp this has been, and a look of horror crossed his face. “You had to go there, didn’t you?” he said, wary of the proverbial jinx.

Today, right-hander Logan Kensing suffered an abdominal strain that could idle him for two weeks. I’m toast. …

Announcing Opening Day starters even before the start of exhibition play has become the vogue among managers, but Clint Hurdle, while acknowledging the staff has already discussed choices, isn’t in any hurry.

“We’ll announce it before the opener, though,” he said.

A year ago, Hurdle waited until Mar. 24 before giving the assignment to Kevin Correia. …

Happy Rare Birthday: If you are one of about five million Earthlings born on Feb. 29, tomorrow is your rare chance to blow out some candles. Thanks to baseball-reference.com’s cool search feature, we know there were 11 Major Leaguers born on Feb. 29.

The most-recent two were Long shots: Terrence Long was born in 1976 and had an eight-year big-league career with five different teams through 2006; before that, right-hander Bill Long (1960) won 27 games from 1985-1991. …

Alex Presley update: I recently compared him to Chad Curtis, the ’90s outfielder for the Angels, Yankees, Rangers. I’d like to revise Alex’s look-alike status to a mash-up of Curtis and Tom Cruise. …

Pitchers work on every possible contingency during Spring Training. So it might seem like a good idea to have Drill Drills. Have a coach rip liners back at them, to teach them how to reflexively duck, or to at least learn to end their deliveries in a good fielding position. Just sayin’. …

Quote of the Day:

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.” (Nolan Ryan)

Clint Hurdle Bonus Quote of the Day:

“Vision without action is illusion.”

High camp, lowdown, Feb. 27: Pie? Bye!

Apparently, Traynor will remain the most famous Pie in Pirates history. A.J. Burnett showed little interest in importing to Pittsburgh his Bronx tradition of celebrating walk-off wins with pies to the kisser.

“That’s no Yankees tradition. Everyone in baseball does it,” Burnett scoffed. “Just cause it’s New York, now it’s a tradition?”

Burnett was even less interested to hear that Nick Swisher has stepped up to succeed him as lead pie thrower.

For the record, according to Michael McKenry, the ’11 Pirates celebrated walk-off wins — they had six of them — however the mood struck them.

“Once I did get the pie,” McKenry said. “But usually we just played this special song (in the clubhouse). I don’t remember what. (Outfielder Matt) Diaz picked it.” …

This is not what you want to happen to you during fielding practice: Anderson Hernandez tripped over the second-base bag, sending him sprawling and both his glove and his cap flying. Hernandez got up grinning, perhaps thinking, “How long has that been there?” …

In one year, the Boston Red Sox have gone from prohibitive favorites to prohibition. …

Clint Hurdle’s two favorite expressions: “Being in a good place” and “Taking ownership of (fill in the blank: career, at-bat, future, etc.).” …

Reps from Elevee, custom clothiers, set up shop outside the Bucs’ clubhouse. Their model on the promotional flier they posted on the bulletin board? Ryan Braun. …

Quote of the Day:

“Those on top of the mountain did not fall there.” (Unknown)

High camp, lowdown, Feb. 25: Something’s fishy

Two things you will never see in the Pirates’ clubhouse: a minotaur, and James McDonald without a fishing pole in his hands. …

The local classical radio station — WSMR-89.1FM — features the Pittsburgh Symphony every Saturday afternoon. …

But what’s with all the “This is Birdland” signs around the Bradenton-Sarasota area? The Orioles get Sarasota, their Spring Training base, but you gotta draw some lines. Quick, a shipment of Jolly Rogers, please. …

Does it seem that people are far more upset with Ryan Braun because he got his suspension overturned than they were when he got the suspension in the first place? …

Rod Barajas was stunned to learn that the Pirates’ club single-season record for most homers by a catcher is 17, by Jim Pagliaroni in 1965. Barajas had 16 last season, and has averaged 17 the last three.

“We can go better than that (17), can’t we?” Barajas, whose personal high is 21 with the Rangers in 2005, told me with a grin. …

If shortstop Clint Barmes and first baseman Casey McGehee set a pace with blistering starts, will third baseman Pedro Alvarez and second baseman Neil Walker also have to shave their heads to make it a bald infield? …

Quote of the Day:

“When you become a part of a team you cease to have rights but you gain responsibility.” (John Wooden)

High camp, lowdown, Feb. 24: Was this necessary?

Friday’s drills at Pirate City included the Optimism Drill? What? Officially, it consisted of pitchers running the bases but, you know …

Yes, A.J. Burnett also ran the bases, as opposed to trotting around them. The right-hander who has spent the last six seasons in the DH (American) League is quick to tell everyone of his plans to add to the three home runs he’d hit while with the Marlins.

For the record, Burnett went 1-for-16 while batting in Interleague games with the Blue Jays and he Yankees in 2006-11, and is a career .130 hitter. …

Club president Frank Coonelly wore a smile as he mingled with fans between fields at Pirate City, displaying little of the stress he must have been feeling the day after disclosure of the Dec. 22 incident that led to him being charged with drunken driving. “I’ll be all right,” Coonelly said. “I have a lot of support, especially from my family.”

Quote of the Day:

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” (Leo Buscaglia)

High camp, lowdown, Feb. 23: New K-zone?

It is interesting that the Pirates’ rotation now packs two pitchers whose resumes include 200-strikeout seasons: A.J. Burnett (203 in 2002, 231 in 2008) and Erik Bedard (221 in 2007).

That matches the number the Bucs have had in their entire history>: Bob Veale, who did it four times between 1964-1969, and Oliver Perez (2004).

A reader of Pirates.com recently wondered whether they’d ever had two pitchers hit 200 strikeouts in the same season.

Heck, not even in the same quarter century. …

In case you’re dying to know, no — no individual or organization has approached Andrew McCutchen, whose dreadlocks put Jose Reyes’ to hirsute shame, about cutting his hair in the name of charity. …

Put this on your bulletin board: The highest-ranked Pirates starting pitcher in a poll conducted by a website of its bloggers in Bedard, at No. 59. …

And stick this one right next to it: Eric Byrnes, participating on the MLB Network’s Hot Stove show, picked the Washington Nationals to win the 2012 World Series. …

Then, again, do you suppose, had there been an Internet and cable television at the time, we would have heard a bunch of people in February picking the Mets to win the 1969 World Series? …

Quote of the Day:

“Focus more on your desire than your doubt — and the dream will take on itself. You may be surprised at how easily this happens. Your doubts are not as powerful as your desires — unless you make them.” (Marcia Wieder)

High camp, lowdown, Feb. 22: Getting 2 know U.

Two days before the official reporting date, all but three Pirates players are in camp. Everyone but Gorkys Hernandez, Anderson Hernandez and Gustavo Nunez. This is a great sign, considering the opportunity for returning players and the 17 new players in camp to get to know each other. … 

Alex Presley reminds me a lot of Chad Curtis, the former Angels-Yankees outfielder who always seemed ready to run through a wall. Physically, that is — although those who have already seen him play a lot more than I have say he is also a play-alike. …

Yes, that black-and-gold tote on my shoulder is a souveinr from the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh — the 1974 All-Star Game, at Three Rivers Stadium. …

What is it with the Bucs and the name-game? As if having seven of the total of 18 McNames in the Majors weren’t enough — Hurdle and Barmes are two only two Clints currently in the Majors and, as often pointed out already, Andrew and Daniel are the only two players named McCutchen in big-league history. …

Today’s Quote of the Day:

  • “One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.”

Bonus QOTD (courtesy Clint Hurdle):

  • “If you aim for nothing, you’re going to hit it every time.”

High camp, lowdown: Feb. 21; Tek, Rick and the dog.

Politicians are often satirized for forgetting today what had happened yesterday — but Kent Tekulve is giving one presidential hopeful props for perfect recollection of an event more than 20 years ago.

A report and video of Republican candidate Rick Santorum’s run-in with Tekulve while on the Congressional campaign trail in 1990 has been gaining a lot of Internet steam.

In it, Santorum talks about an episode of door-to-door campaigning in an Upper St. Clair neighborhood when, in consecutive stops, a dog urinates on his leg then his knocks on the adjacent house are answered by the Pirates reliever.

“Mr. Tekulve, I’m so excited to meet you,” Santorum recalls saying — while the tall reliever’s eyes are fixed on the large stain on his pants.

“True, every word of it,” Tekulve said following Tuesday’s workout at Pirate City. “Accurate to the final detail. But that dog died a long time a go, so we’ve lost one element of the story.” …

While driving to camp this morning, heard on the radio a traffic advisory for Alligator Alley. Here’s my advisory: Stay away from any alley that has alligators. …

Just saw the ranking of the Majors’ Top 35 starting pitchers by some online “experts.” A guy who has never thrown a big-league pitch (Yu Darvish) is No. 23, but there are no Pirates on the list. Okay …

If you’re looking for a good investment, perhaps you should put your dough into a gym in Los Angeles. There can’t be too many of them because Albert Pujols and Yu Darvish just happened to bump into each other in one.

Quote of the Day:

“Life is too short to waste. Dreams are fulfilled only through action, not through endless planning to take action.”

High camp, lowdown, Feb. 20: A.J.’s Group-On

Pittsburgh pitchers are divided into four groups for their work routines, and first-timer A.J. Burnett on Monday was quickly lumped with other starters in Group C. Others in that work detail include Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton.

Different catchers are assigned to handle pitchers throwing sides and — shocker! — Burnett was paired with Rod Barajas, the first on-field reunion of the ’08 batterymates with the Blue Jays. …

Morton’s bullpen session confirmed manager Clint Hurdle’s early impressions of the right-hander’s rebound from hip surgery in October: “He continues to knock down every challenge. He’s probably ahead of schedule, so we’ve mapped out a new schedule for him. He feels good, is in a good place for February with his mechanics and his arm strength.” … 

All of Hurdle’s prior experience with Burnett has been as a foe, most directly in 2010, a season the Bucs skipper spent as the batting coach of the Texas Rangers.

“I tried to put together a program to challenge him multiple times,” Hurdle recalled.

Hurdle must be hoping opposing batting coaches now will have as much difficulty with that as he did: In three starts that season against the Rangers, Burnett had 17 strikeouts in 18 innings while allowing five earned runs, an ERA of 2.50. …

The message on Burnett’s wristband: “Be unstoppable!” …

Burnett, on the reasons behind his outstanding 2008 season, when he went 18-10 for Toronto: “Probably (Barajas), blocking all those curveballs in the dirt. He’s probably one of the finest catchers I’ve ever thrown to. He’s a hard worker, keeps you on track. I’m looking forward to working with him again.” …

Quote of the Day:

  • “It’s not the hours you put into your work that counts — it’s the work you put into the hours.”

High camp, lowdown: Feb. 19

Please, everyone, stop harping on the Pirates’ “low payroll.” It has run its course as an interesting topic. We get it: the Bucs aren’t on a level paying field with the Yankees and Cardinals of the baseball world.

We also get this: The 2008 Rays made it to a World Series with a payroll of $43.8 million — 29th among the 30 MLB teams.

It’s not what you spend, people — it’s on who you spend it, and how much heart they bring to the table.

Today’s first workout for pitchers & catchers proceeded as scheduled once mid-morning showers gave way to sunshine. Only absentees: Chris Resop (stomach flu) and Ramon Cabrera (missed flight connection).

Attention, BSOML (best-shape-of-my-life) fans: 35-year-old Jason Grilli reports he’s in the best shape of his life following an offseason of intense workouts, including running drills in a sand pit.

Some people were surprised to see Erik Bedard wearing a brace on his left knee during a recent sideline session. Routine, apparently. “Wore it all last season,” Bedard said. You just didn’t see it under his uniform pants, unlike the shorts popular “off-hours” in Spring Training.

Bedard, conversely, seemed genuinely surprised to learn he has a considerable following among Canadians. A sizable number are fans of Bedard, a native of Navan in Ontario, wherever his big-league travels take him.

Bedard is not plugged into the online social network community, thus was unaware of his following. But it’s only natural: The lefty pitched for Team Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

I will relay a motivational quote that appears on the Pirates’ daily workout schedule, for all the players to see as they hit the fields. … The Camp Quote of the Day:

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” (Credit: Lou Holtz)

High camp, lowdown: Feb. 18

BRADENTON — Quiet day in Pirates camp, as rest of pitchers and catchers check in while gearing up for Sunday’s first formal workout for batterymen. The pre-workout routine includes physicals — which can be anything but routine, as the Yankees and Hideki Okajima found out.

Sunday is expected to also bring the first A.J. Burnett sighting — although he may not be able to dive right in even after his physical. Such timing would be extremely odd, but there have been multiple reports that Commissioner Bud Selig would rubber-stamp the trade — required, since the Yankees are packaging Burnett with 20 times the $1 million trigger for needed approval — only after a successful physical.

Burnett’s durability is often cited as a trait that most appealed to, and is most needed, by the Pirates. True, good or bad, he’s been out there close to 200 innings every season. But, although the Pirates have not had a 200-inning pitcher for a couple of years — Zach Duke was the last, with 213 in 2009 — it’s not like more recent Bucs rotations have been made of tissue.

In fact, last season all five starters logged 154-plus innings. Do you know how many other Major League teams could make the same claim? Three, and two of them were in the playoffs (Rangers, Brewers, plus Mets).

Paul Maholm is out of that equation, obviously, but the team is convinced Erik Bedard will match or surpass his 162 1/3 innings.

Bedard will be one of the pitchers throwing a bullpen on Sunday. Won’t be his first; been in camp for a couple of weeks already, and will stretch out from the prior 25-pitch sessions he has already thrown.

In their last 10 games of 2011 — including the Division Series against the Tigers — the Yankees got only two wins out of their starters. Guess who had both of them? (Hint: Initials are A.J.)

How cool is it to case Pirate City and stroll among areas named for the chaperones of my childhood? Clemente and Stargell fields, the Mazeroski diamond, the Law, Friend, Face bullpens.

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