For 21 long, miserable years, the Pittsburgh Pirates wallowed as a low revenue loser that operated on a shoe string budget with no intention of spending to win, let alone investing in a farm system to develop talent. Thankfully, those days are now over. The Pirates now have a team that is becoming of their magnificent PNC Park set along the riverbanks of the downtown skyline for one of the most picturesque settings in all of sports.
A major contributor to the newfound success and two consecutive playoff seasons for the Pirates has been manger Clint Hurdle. The former heartthrob that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a Kansas City Royals rookie phenom has come a long way from a playing career that failed to live up to the hype.
A Proven Winner
While Hurdle did not live up to the impossible expectations of his playing career, his managing career has been quite another story. He first gained credit as a big league skipper when he led the upstart Colorado Rockies to the 2007 National League pennant. He was eventually fired two years later but has since been vindicated.
Colorado has wallowed as one of the worst organizations in sports while Hurdle methodically transformed the Pirates from a similar type status into one of the most inspiring stories in sports. Under Hurdle’s leadership the Bucs have reignited the passion of their long suffering fans. With back-to-back playoff appearances comes a new culture of winning that has bred much higher expectations. It’s something that the Pirates and Hurdle have embraced as they embark on a 2015 National League pennant chase.
The Next Step
Consecutive wild card seasons in which the Pirates won 94 games in 2013 and 88 games in 2014 have been a nice start. Only the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers have won more games than the Bucs in the NL over the past two seasons. But Hurdle, franchise superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen, and Pirates nation are ready for more.
Success will not be easy with the NL Central looks like the top division in baseball with the perennial power St. Louis Cardinals, the potentially dangerous Cincinnati Reds, and the vastly improved Chicago Cubs.
McCutchen has been in the top three of Most Valuable Player voting the past three seasons and has demonstrated a new maturity and leadership ability that has been a major catalyst to the Bucs’ success. McCutchen and the team are showing a quiet and determined resolve in training camp as they can sense that a big breakout year beckons.
McCutcheon leads what many consider to be the top outfield in the game with right fielder Gregory Polanco, who arrived to camp in the best shape of his career, and left fielder Starling Marte.
Despite the loss of irreplaceable catcher Russell Martin the Pirates have what Hurdle believes to be their strongest team since his arrival in 2011. It is shaping up like the most dramatic season in Pittsburgh since their 1992 heartbreaker against the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.
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