If you rattle off the numbers 68, 67, 62, and 57 it’s not because you’re not playing Keno. Pittsburgh Pirates fans know exactly what those numbers are. They represent the win totals for the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last four seasons of futility. This year things are different in the Steel City. Not only have the Pirates already topped the 50 win plateau, but it is July 20th and the Buccos are in first place in the NL Central.
They don’t have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. They don’t have Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Their best player didn’t even get to go to Arizona for the All-Star Game until Ryan Braun pulled out of the game just a few days prior. Yet despite having a relatively anonymous roster, the Pirates are the best story in all of baseball and don’t look like they are going anywhere anytime soon. One of the biggest reasons for their success is their manager Clint Hurdle. After spending last year as an assistant, Hurdle is back as skipper and he has completely changed the culture and attitude of his young players. In the process he has brought excitement back to a city that has had to endure nearly two decades of futility on the diamond.
Clint Hurdle joined ESPN Radio Dallas with Galloway and Company to talk about the surprising play of the Steelers so far,what he thinks has turned around with his team, whether there are any similarities to other teams he has been with in the past, and how fun he is having with the city embracing this team.
On the start to the season:
“It has been a very solid start. A lot of energy, a lot of passion in the start. We’ve been able to rekindle the city with the ball team, the fan support, there’s a groundswell going on, the community is getting involved, the numbers are showing up at the ballpark, and the team’s confidence has built from opening day till now. We needed to get out of the blocks clean at least to be competitive and play hard. We’ve taken another step where we’re competitive and we’re playing hard and there’s tangible evidence of wins in that left hand column, which is making everybody around Pittsburgh a lot happier.”
What he thinks has turned around with his team:
“We’ve still got a large number of games to play, but I do think the mentality has changed. Time will tell, our effort on the field will dictate a lot, how we finish games, and where the record ends up at the end of the season, but the mentality has changed. Something that Wash (Ron Washington) talks about all the time in Texas: ‘We can beat anybody today.’ All we have to do is score one more run. Really get them to lock into that and to understand from a foundation point of if you can pitch and play defense you can build a championship. If you can’t pitch you can’t build anything. You send a lot of guys to the All-Star Game from the offensive side. You gotta pitch and you’ve gotta play 27 outs and these guys listened to it over the winter, they started putting it in play in mini-camp and spring training, and that was all we talked about was pitching, playing defense, and finding a way to score one more run than the other team. Low and behold you get into the season and it happens a few times. Now they go from hoping to thinking to believing. The trust out there has grown a dramatic portion in four months.”
Whether or not this team has similarities to other teams he has been with in the past:
“There’s some common fabric to last season in Texas and there’s some common fabric to what went on in ’07 in Colorado. The unique factor that you have here is this was truly a baseball town before it was anything else. This organization is in its 125th season and it’s a tradition rich organization. You go back to World Championship to the early 1900’s. To have Spring Training and for Mazeroski to be there and actually see greatness and have it be involved in your camp, the fan base here is starting to come out. They’ve been estranged and for right reasons. 18 consecutive losing seasons. It’s a blue collar town and just want guys who are going to play hard and make no excuses, don’t get caught up in any distractions, and leave it all on the field. I think they can reconnect with this team and I think this team and this city has put together a good fit and I think we’re seeing it at the turn style now that people are coming out in big numbers. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s a beautiful ballpark by the way as well.”
How much fun he has had this season with the Pirates:
“It’s big time fun. I told my dad a while ago that this is like a comfortable pair of jeans. I can throw on a blazer and an oxford shirt or I can go with Hawaiian shirt and flip flops. I hope I’m as comfortable to the organization and the city and community as everybody has been to me so far. Right now as we speak we’re unloading truck loads of furniture into our new home in Hampton. We’re throwing down anchor. We are Pirates.”