Thursday, March 3, 2011

Photos from Pittsburgh Pirates' Spring Training

In Pittsburgh, it is currently way too cold. The kind of cold where stepping outside and experiencing it at the start of the day is a sucker punch to the nerves, like having a total stranger randomly berate you as he passes you by on the sidewalk.
I can take it, though, because I know that this hulking, filthy grey behemoth known as Pittsburgh Winter is not long for this world. Somewhere hundreds of miles south of here, in a land of orange juice and pawn shops, baseball is alive and well. And though it may be far away now, it is getting stronger and ready to head north. Hurry down, April 7th; I have my Florida-bought sunscreen on the bathroom sink counter, and I'm not moving it because I know I'm gonna be needing it real soon.
I have just spent two days in sunny, tropical Bradenton, Florida, where I watched two Pirates practices at Pirates City and two games at McKechnie Field against the Yankees and the Twins, respectively. In addition, I had the special privilege of getting a tour of Pirates City, which I have documented below.
Today's post will deal with Pirates City and the Yankees game, in which the Pirates got themselves a shut-out and two runs. Tomorrow's post will deal with the Twins game, which we lost 4-2 due to some embarrassing moments that brought back a few too many memories. But you know what? I don't care. Any baseball is better than no baseball. And from now through October, Any Baseball is what we are at the bare minimum guaranteed.

Here is the entrance to Pirate City, home away from home for many baseball recruits, some as young as 16 (and 6'6" with a 92-93 mph fastball).
The various jerseys worn by the teams that comprise the Pirates organization. From left: the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Indianapolis Indians (AAA), the Altoona Curve (AA), The Bradenton Marauders (A+), the West Virginia Power (A), the State College Spikes (short-season A), and the Rookie League jersey. I intend to have an exact replica of this particular display case in my house one day.
In a recent tweet, Joel Hanrahan referred to this place as "The Hotel", and that is synonymous with how our tour guide described it. As a twenty-seven-year-old male, I am used to being one of the 'young ones' in many situations, but when it comes to minor-league baseball players, it is important for me to realize that I am ten years older than a lot of these kids. Not only are the Pirates training these guys to be professional ball players, but they're also responsible for helping them to mature as young adults as well.
It's an interesting balancing act that the Pirates organization has to pull off. Every 18-year-old thinks he's the star around which the rest of his universe orbits; much of maturity is realizing that you are just another human being who needs to find a comfortable, humbling niche for himself.
Here, however, you are dealing with elite athletes who are very justified in viewing themselves as larger than life. Most of these guys may not make it to the majors, but even making it to Pirates City as a resident is an accomplishment far greater than many of us can hope for. How do you properly raise a kid who knows he possesses real talent that sets him apart from so many others?
For these young prospects, the Pirates use Baseball as the guiding force in life, both on-field and off-field. They teach a respect for the sport's tradition, and emphasize that being a member of the Pirates means becoming a part of this tradition. Here, we see a typical living space for a Pirates prospect. Each room is named after a famous Pirate alumni; this is the Willie Stargell room.
How does one goof off in the Willie Stargell room? What 18-year-old wants to jump on the Willie Stargell bed? I'm not even an athlete, and I am currently feeling compelled to act right just thinking about it. Fact is: the gods of Baseball inhabit every corner of the game; Roberto Clemente will never die, and Bill Mazeroski is forever in the midst of his victory run around the bases following his walk-off home run even as he instructs young fielders in the present day. It is a rich tradition that is easily-conjured, and Pirates City evokes it with all the reverence that it deserves.
The main rec room. Lots of Xbox gets played here, a true cultural unifier if ever there was one.
This is an example of how the Pirates organization expects a player to keep his locker. This locker would have never worked for me at that age; I would need the locker door to keep everything from spilling out into the hallway.
The players' lockers, looking very similar to the one above.

And here we have the players, gathered around the entrance to the indoor practice facilities.
Outside, Charlie Morton watches Jeff Locke during a fielding drill.
Doumit, catcher Dusty Brown and McCutchen.
Jim Negrych after a successful batting practice.

Lyle Overbay graciously signs a few things.

Andrew McCutchen signs a sheaf of baseball cards that are absolutely going onto Ebay. McCutchen was actually really surprisingly easy-going about this; one old man was pestering him about his refusal to sign the last three bobble heads out of who knows how many in total the other day, to which McCutchen replied that he only had so much time during practice to sign stuff. If I were McCutchen, I'd probably just give the guy twenty bucks and ask him to leave me alone for a few days.
Doumit makes faces while amusing Jaramillo.

Neil Walker looks apprehensively at the throng of collectors anticipating a money-making autograph.

Cedeno and McCutchen kill time waiting for BP.
The helmet is in the air.

No error on that play!
At this point, it was time to head to McKechnie Field for the game versus the Yankees.
As you can see, neither team had a lot of starters in this game; fortunately I am one of those die-hard fans who knows about all of these guys and relished the opportunity to see some of them play.
It was an overcast day, but it was also an 80-degree day with zero humidity.
Presley misplays a ball in center field.
Aaron Thompson relieved James McDonald and experienced similar success, lasting two innings and giving up two hits, zero runs and earning two strikeouts.
Close call at first. The umpire called it safe because sometimes gravity just doesn't work hard enough.
Here is an absolute certainty: there will be a lot more SBs this year. Hope they go better than this one, though.

Resop on the pitcher's mound pitched for one inning and earned two strikeouts.
Snyder looking rather down after a failed attempt at stealing second.
Daniel McCutchen found success during this, his second outing. He earned the win and recording two strikeouts.
Steve Pearce next to Jones. I think this guy is going to make the 25-man following spring training; he looked great before his season-ending injuries last season, and at least some of my predictions have to come true at some point, dammit.

Hurdle likes steals.
Moskos gave up the only walk of the day, but he also recorded a strikeout and kept the Yankees off the board.
Always grinning.

This game was a special one indeed; Pirates pitching was excellent across the board and allowed us to win with only two runs! And against the Yankees, no less. Check back tomorrow for photos of the less-enjoyable-yet-totally-worth-your-time Twins game.