Kovacevic: Pirates' 2013 tale ends 'NOW'
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Sid Bream and Nate Schierholtz rounded third and raced toward home, virtually side by side, splice by splice. And by the time both reached the plate, the two most prominent chapters of the Pirates' recent history would be finally, formally sealed.
That's Clint Hurdle's goal, anyway.
It was Feb. 18, the first day of full-squad workouts at Pirate City, and the manager rounded up all players, coaches, even front office and staff, into the cafeteria before taking the field. The meeting's been a spring rite here for decades, but this was different.
It had to be different.
“There was a message we wanted to deliver,” as Hurdle was telling me in his office Thursday. “A very important message.”
With a very powerful delivery, as it turned out. Kevin Roach, the Pirates' longtime video guy for baseball operations, and Tyler Graham, a producer for Root Sports, pieced together a six-minute highlights video of the 2013 season, to be exclusively shown at this meeting.
Roach made the initial approach and moved ahead with Hurdle's blessing.
“More than anything, I just wanted to find a way to say thank you,” Roach said. “It was a special team.”
So one after the other, the hits rolled, backed by Aerosmith's timeless “Dream On” and Greg Brown functioning at a decibel level that would shame Steven Tyler: Pedro Alvarez's river shot, Andrew McCutchen's walkoff in the 12th, Tony Sanchez flipping into the dugout, A.J. Burnett's fist, Jason Grilli's fire and, of course, “CUE-TO! CUE-TO!”
But for the absolute gem of this compilation, in a wonderful stroke of imagination, Graham alternated the classic 1992 footage of Bream running the bases after which he was … well, you know … against the Sept. 23, 2013, clip of the Cubs' Schierholtz steaming home as McCutchen's throw being scooped by Justin Morneau, then relayed to Russell Martin for … well, you know that one, too. The video went back and forth between the two until the summer's most iconic image: Martin raising the ball triumphantly from his knees, Grilli embracing his catcher, and the Pirates, of course, in the playoffs.
At the end, one word covered the screen: “NOW.”
“Yeah, that's when we went nuts,” Gerrit Cole remembered. “I mean, we're high-fiving, clapping, yelling.”
In the cafeteria, he meant.
“Goosebumps,” Neil Walker said.
“Tingles, man,” Jared Hughes said.
“Honestly, seeing that moment again like that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up,” Martin said. “Baseball can be an emotional game, you know. And I think we all got caught up in it again. That belonged to all of us, to the whole city.”
It always will, too. But after about three minutes, Hurdle stepped in front of the projection screen, boomed out, “That's it! Let's go, boys!” and waved them toward the field.
His first two words there needed no elaboration after that video. And the “NOW” that closed it has become the theme of by far the most energetic, enthusiastic spring training I've covered in a decade-plus.
Tip the cap to the manager for all of the above.
“We closed the book,” Hurdle said. “Everything we're about down here is ‘What now?' It's time to go back to work. It's 2014. It's a new journey. How do we improve? We know how we got to the point we reached last season. And if that's all you want, you just do the same thing. But we want more.”
Which isn't to say he's discarding or even downplaying 2013 and any of its possible echoes.
“There's a layer of experience we gained. We've been there. We've done that. Now it's time for more.”
Picking up on the buzz word yet?
If not, buckle up.
“Last season was significant for a lot of reasons, but what's next now?” Hurdle continued. “ Now, we need to move forward. Now, we need to get better. Now, every man has to take the challenge to improve himself. Now, we have to bring a world championship to Pittsburgh. That doesn't come by focusing on yesterday or even tomorrow. It's about today. It's about now.”
If this approach comes across as a no-brainer, it shouldn't. The most trying task for any manager or coach in any sport is to instill a collective focus and desire. It would be so, so easy to lean on what figures to be an enduring public satisfaction — if not outright giddiness — with 2013. No, the Pirates didn't get past Game 5 in St. Louis despite a series lead, but you couldn't find more than a handful of people in Pittsburgh who were anything less than ecstatic as a whole. And while there's nothing wrong with that given history, it's not a sentiment Hurdle can allow to creep into his clubhouse.