Might be time for The Cutch to lose the squint. The one through which he seems to have looked at me ever since our first encounter.
On Feb. 3, 2012, Jose Reyes donated his signature dreadlocks to South Florida’s Make-A-Wish Foundation.
A week later, I hit Pirate City for my first official day of covering the Bucs for MLB.com. Entering the players’ clubhouse, I made a beeline for the team’s top player, introduced myself to Andrew McCutchen and, while shaking hands, posed my first of hundreds of questions to the man:
“How much do you think you could get for your dreadlocks?”
McCutchen quickly let go off my hand, squinted at me as if I had three eyes, and recoiled.
“What? What’re you talking about? Nobody’s getting a hand on these,” he said.
I quickly regrouped, explained the fresh Reyes precedent, but some ground rules had been established: This new guy is going to be weird, and his questions will keep coming off the wall.
So we flash forward to March 25, 2015 .. and there go McCutchen’s signature locks, for the benefit of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and we will soon have an answer to that three-year-old question of how much they will bring.
In addition to a big help for truly deserving kids, the Cutch Cut will also assist reporters, believe it or not.
The famous dreadlocks required a lot of post-game care, particularly if they had taken a pie in recognition of a walk-off hit. The required grooming would keep the media seeking post-game interviews on hold.
Both the hair and the vigil by McCutchen’s locker have become shorter.
Hey, Will Ferrell: Vance Worley wants his nickname back.
Ferrell, as you may have heard, earned a page on BaseballReference.com with his one-day barnstorming tour of the Cactus League. On it, his nickname is given as Manimal.
Worley, the Bucs’ Vanimal, should join Kenneth Bernard Faried in a class-action suit against the comic. Faried, of the NBA’s Nuggets, actually is nicknamed Manimal. …
Pace of play? Forget that. How about pace of everything-around-the-play? The Pirates and Orioles today played a seven-inning “B” game — no broadcast commercial breaks, no in-stadium entertainment follies — in under two hours …
It’s pretty confusing somedays in Spring Training around the Bucs, who shout “Lambo!” to give encouragement to Andrew Lambo, and “Lomba!” to exhort Steve Lombardozzi. …
In the “B” game, nonroster lefties Jeremy Bleich and Charlie Leesman each pitched a shutout inning in front of about a dozen scouts. Not saying that they were being showcased, but the Bucs really have no room in their own bullpen and several teams — most notably the Mets, who just lost Josh Edgin to Tommy John surgery — are actively shopping for southpaw relief.
“B” game performances don’t show up in official stat lines, but Bleich and Leesman also have a pair of scoreless appearances each in Grapefruit League play. …
Cool thing about Francisco Cervelli: Only throwback among Pirates batters; he doesn’t wear batting gloves. …
In case you were wondering, yes, Worley downed his usual two donuts before going out and dunking the Orioles for four innings today: Raspberry and Boston Cream. ..
The Bucs used seven pitchers in today’s exhibition against the Yankees. And who was the only one with a perfect outing?
Tyler Glasnow, the No. 1 bound-for-Altoona prospect whose three-up-and-three-down sixth included two punchouts.
Clint Hurdle was so blown away, he got downright giggly in giving his impression:
“Nice outing for him, to start things off in big league camp. Threw with some nice downhill angle. He showed some composure, worked with good rhythm and pace.” …
Ever wonder what goes through the minds of these guys as they watch today’s young guns go through pre-game?
Maz and the Quail … Bill Mazeroski and Bill Virdon … the memories …
Garrett Jones is wearing No. 33 with the Yankees, but that could not be his number in Pittsburgh. That number belonged to Honus Wagner, and was retired by the Bucs long ago. …
Someone in the Pirates locker room shrugged off reports that Adam Wainwright, who last week had to leave Cards camp to have some abdominal pain diagnosed, had an encouraging bullpen session.
“You don’t have to worry about Adam,” said the anonymous Bucco. “He could have two broken legs, and he’d go out and pitch two shutout innings.” …
Hurdle credits Clayton Richard with “the best pickoff move we’ve had from a left-hander since I’ve been here.”
Richard, in camp as a non-roster invitee, showed off the move by nailing the Yankees’ Ramon Flores in the seventh inning today …
Corey Hart can laugh at the laundry list of injuries that have pestered him throughout his career. He is down a spell with a slight cut on the outside of his left foot. It’s a very minor injury, but Hart says with a straight face, “I think I’ll be okay before the season ends.” …
A lot of people in South Korea awoke to this headline Wednesday morning: “Kang Homers in Debut!” In the third inning of his spring debut Tuesday afternoon, Jung Ho Kang homered — at 4 a.m. Seoul time.
The clout was big news in his homeland. Not quite Neil-Armstrong-takes-first-step-on-the-Moon size, but still of national interest.
Received many Tweets like this one, from “Jane:” “There were many fans (like myself) who stayed up all night just to watch Jungho’s first game as a pirate. I’m glad I did.” …
Best “new” swing in camp: Pedro Alvarez’s, whose three hits in the first two exhibitions have all gone to left field. …
Best new beard in camp: That, too, belongs to Alvarez. …
Can’t believe how turned on people are about the Bucs’ new matte batting helmets. If you ask me, I think they’re dull. …
You’ve probably read a lot about McKechnie Field’s new expanded clubhouse. What does that mean? This: Last spring, there was one big-screen TV; now there are 16. …
According to the Bovada sports book, the over-under for MLB’s highest HR total of the season is 42 1/2. That may be too high: The only guy to do 37-plus last season was Nelson Cruz (40), and he has moved from Baltimore’s Camden Yards into Seattle’s spacious Safeco Field.
Subsequently, if no one reaches 40 this season, it would be the first without a 40-homer man in 33 years — since Reggie Jackson led with 39 with the 1982 Angels. …
We always knew Huntington and Clint Hurdle loved big arms. Those in camp this spring are attached to some big bodies.
Tyler Glasnow is 6-foot-8. Josh Wall is 6-foot-6, and you could assemble an entire staff, not to mention a backcourt, with the 6-foot-5 guys (among them Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Clayton Richard).
Then, there are the Tall Brothers, 6-9 John Holdzkom and 6-7 Jared Hughes:
You can read about their unique kinship on MLB.com tomorrow.
About those NCAAs? The Bucs should at least be on the bubble. …
The mean temperature in Pittsburgh during February was 18.9 degrees. Only one February on record has been colder in the city’s history: 1979, at 18.0 degrees. Hmmm … wonder what else happened in Pittsburgh that year? …
Whoever inherited Jeff Banister’s chore of making out the Bucs’ practice schedules and lineups could use spell-check. The other day’s batting practice rotation included a “Florimom” and the Gold’s lineup for tomorrow’s squad game originally had “Polonco” in right …
This is my fourth Spring Training covering the Bucs. I have never seen Pedro Alvarez in such good shape — mentally as well as physically. He’s going to own this. To borrow from another media, he’s got the X Factor. …
Snapshots and quick shots from Pirate City …
Clint Hurdle watched the battalion of Korean reporters and camera crews trailing their countryman, and immediately bestowed a nickname of Jung Ho Kang: “Pied Piper.”
The Korean media is not only fawning over Kang, but falling in love with the Bucs. Regard the regalia of MBC’s Sun-shin Kim as she does an on-camera bit with Josh Harrison:
I don’t know how you say “Pied Piper” in Korean. But I do know Pirates is “Hae jeok.”
Pedro Florimon has the smoothest hands I’ve seen in infield practice. Easy to see how he was able to hold down the Twins’ shortstop job all 2013 while hitting only .221.
Pedro Alvarez manned first base while infielders took turns firing one-hoppers at his feet. Were they trying to let him know how it felt to be on the receiving end of his throws last season, when he had all those throwing errors from third base? Of course not — it was part of the regular “dig it” drill for first basemen, Alvarez now being one of them.
I found out Pedro and I do have one thing in common: We’re both Game Show Network junkies.
Although he will have one of the Majors’ most versatile benches, which would afford him the luxury of at least thinking about it, Hurdle says he has “no” interest in having an eight-man bullpen, as some teams are considering.
Gerrit Cole must be one of the few ballplayers not on Twitter. “Just not very interested in that stuff,” he says.
I have seen A.J. Burnett.
I have seen Brian Kelly.
I just have never seen them both at the same time in the same place.
The Buccos pitcher says he isn’t particularly a fan of country music, so that could be one explanation why he hasn’t hung out with Kelly, one half of the duo Florida Georgia Line.
Here is another: They are the same person.
Truth be told, if A.J. has a doppelgänger, he would prefer it to be Batman.
Has A.J. ever been told he looks like Kelly?
“Nonsense,” A.J. says. “I have been told he looks like me.”
Sometimes we read too much into what is said or not said or how it is said, drawing conclusions about what is left unsaid. So it might have been totally coincidental the other day when Clint Hurdle gave an early report of Jung Ho Kang’s spring to-do list.
Or not. But ever since the four-year agreement with Kang, a shortstop on a team that already has a shortstop under its control for two more years, there has been speculation he would be groomed to replace Neil Walker at second base.
Thus my ears perked up when Hurdle said Kang “will get reps at short and third, positions he has played, then maybe second.”
Was that Hurdle’s way of squashing the perception the Bucs are looking for a way to move beyond Walker, who will earn $8 million this season and is likely to jump to eight figures at his next and last go at arbitration?
I hope so. Walker’s future is a polarizing subject. As the Pittsburgh Kid, he’s loved. As a recurring victim of injuries, some freak, he can be scorned.
Above all, though, he is a gamer and a winner whose contributions can’t be assessed on a stat line. Although a club-record 23 homers for all the second basemen in the Bucs’ history isn’t a bad start. For three seasons, two of which have extended into a postseason, I’ve seen these Buccos be a different team with and without Walker.
The numbers might surprise you: In 2012-14, the Pirates went 209-173 when Walker was in the starting lineup — and 52-52 when he wasn’t.
I’m as anxious as anyone to see what Kang can do. I’m just not very anxious to see him do it at second base.
Clint Hurdle’s Leadership Council is catching on. This will be the third season the Pirates manager will remain attuned to clubhouse doings through bi-monthly meetings with representatives — chosen by the players themselves — of every team niche (starting pitchers, relievers, infielders, etc.)
The Leadership Council is going college. Thanks to the connection with Larry Broadway, the Bucs’ director of Minor League operations and a former Blue Devil, Duke baseball coach Chris Pollard has instituted his own Council, telling the Pittsburgh Trib, “We discussed how the Pirates are handling leadership. The concept allows us to take advantage of the diverse group of leaders we have on this team.”
It’s an excuse to give Hurdle a hat-tip, and to point out Pollard is no Bobby Knight.
In covering Tony La Russa’s ARF [Animal Rescue Foundation] Benefit in Vegas back in November, I had the privilege of being allowed a bit inside the head of the legendary Indiana basketball coach.
Knight was asked during a panel discussion including others sports legends (Joe Namath, Willis Reed, etc.) how he chose Hoosiers captains.
“My objective was ‘What could they do for me?’ Because they weren’t the team’s captain. They were my captain,” Knight responded. “I needed guys who could steer the other players to my way of thinking.”
Did Knight give the players freedom to make any decisions?
“Oh, sure. Like if we got into a town for a road game, I let them decide whether we practice at 2 o’clock or 5 o’clock the day before,” Knight said. “I let them decided things I didn’t give a damn about.”
Opening Day in Cincinnati isn’t as big a deal as it was before ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball got in on the act. Now the Sunday night boys — it’s the Cardinals and the Cubs this year — get the jump on everyone else.
That used to be the Reds — in recognition of Cincinnati being the cradle of professional baseball. The parade, the pomp & circumstances, the bunting and confetti … it was all theirs.
So while it no longer comes with all the perks and attention, it is still noteworthy that the Bucs will open a season in Cincinnati — Monday, April 6 — for only the third time since 1959.
The last time the Bucs raised the curtain in Queen City was 2003, for the Great American Ball Park’s unveiling — and they did it with a three-game series sweep. That had marked a quick return engagement from the 2001 opener in Cinergy Field.
But prior to that, you had to go all the way back to 1963. Crosley Field. Danny Murtaugh and Fred Hutchinson in the dugouts. Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson in the outfield.
And Pete Rose.
That is what I most remember about the ’63 opener. I watched Rose’s first big league game on KDKA Channel 2. In the bottom of the first, Rose drew a walk off Earl Francis, flung away his bat, and raced down to first base.
Bob Prince, The Gunner, went nuts behind the microphone at this first Charley Hustle sighting. I don’t believe that’s where the nickname originated; I think Rose showed up owning that. But in those blacked-out pre-Internet days, seeing it for yourself for the first time made an impression.
Obviously, still does.