Kovacevic: Pirates aim to be … Hells Angels?
Even as these Pirates keep muddling through Epic Collapse II, their minor league prospects spent the past weekend in Florida inexplicably, indefensibly performing military drills under the direction of former Navy SEALS. No bats, no balls, no gloves.
Yeah, this again.
Here's the deal: Since I brought this topic to light in a column last Friday, many, many more people have come forward to express their disdain for Neal Huntington and his assistant, Kyle Stark, for adding three days of soldier-level training to their Instructional League regimen. And in every case, those people have contacted me, not the other way around.
A few readers asked if I would have written last week's column in June or July, when the Pirates were flying high. The answer is almost certainly no. But that's only because a) the event just happened and b) the mood wasn't the same for these people to talk.
So let's start with the SEALS activity list I was texted. And bear in mind, these are baseball players:
• Wake up at 5 a.m.
• Organize room/locker
• Pushups and sit-ups
• Serpentine on the grass
• Crab walk
• Running along the beach with a telephone-type pole, carried by five or six players
• Pushing a truck tire through the outfield for 90 feet, then flipping it
• Being sprayed by a hose
• Diving into a sand pile
All with a drill sergeant barking orders throughout.
When the Penguins had a team-building session at West Point in 2007, their most grueling exercise, according to most players, was an extended round of jumping jacks.
I'll repeat: These aren't soldiers. They're baseball players. Their training varies from position to position. They're also teenagers for the most part. Most have never heard of these types of exercises, much less prepared mentally or physically to endure them. Ask anyone in the military, and they'll attest there's no comparison between what they do and even the highest level of athletics.
Most of the people who called have used fierce language to denounce this, none more so than those within the Pirates who obviously can't speak on the record for fear of their jobs.
That's OK. I'll say it for them: It's a joke.
And it's doubly so in the context of an organization that's seen prospect after prospect arrive in Pittsburgh lacking in the most basic fundamentals.
But don't take my word. Have a laugh yourself at how goofy the Pirates' development approach has become and why they are, as one American League scout put it, “the laughingstock of the industry.”
On June 28 at 5:22 p.m., Stark sent an email to his minor league managers and coaches, copies of which were forwarded to me from within the organization. Huntington, who promoted Stark to assistant GM last winter, was copied on the email. I confirmed Thursday that neither Bob Nutting nor Frank Coonelly was.
“So what do we need to get done in the second half?” Stark opens the email.
He then stresses developing “boys into men” for the purpose of reaching the majors, listing three points: “Dream and be creative like a Hippie. Have the discipline and perseverance of a Boy Scout. Be crazy and take risks like the Hells Angels.”
Yeah, those Hells Angels.
The famous motorcycle club that is listed as an organized crime syndicate by the U.S. Department of Justice. The one that poses “a criminal threat” in 27 nations because of drug trafficking, theft, money laundering, extortion, assault and homicide.
Here's guessing “Play ball!” isn't their motto.
More Stark: “The biggest impact we can have is developing more Hells Angels. We are really good at working before games. We excel at developing Boy Scouts. However, men play in the Big Leagues and that requires the reckless abandon of a Hells Angel. They're not consumed or swayed by what others think. They sell out to their purpose and live life fully and in-the-moment (‘this pitch').”
The nonsense goes on for several paragraphs, including this cultish creepiness: “At the end of the day, the Hells Angels are fiercely loyal to each other. ... They love each other. Are our players bound by brotherhood? Are we bound by brotherhood?”
And this: “We must get out of our comfort zones and flex our own Hells Angel muscle. We must be extreme in our commitment to these ideas. This is ultimately about developing a mentality and a culture where this becomes our identity. A culture of risk and less control is unsettling for us control freaks!”
Stark, 34, has zero military background. Truth be told, he didn't come to the Pirates with much of a baseball background, either. He played volleyball in school, spent two years as pitching coach at St. Bonaventure and worked in the Indians' system for four years.
And yet Stark has been running a baseball system in a military way — including cleaning house of established baseball men to hire like-minded coaches — for five years here.
His email ends with this: “HOKA HEY — It's a good day to die!!!”
This was the battle cry of the Native American hero Crazy Horse.
Or power hungry.
Or just plain incompetent.