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Leyland still a fan of Pirates

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Tigers manager Jim Leyland signals to the batter during a game earlier this season. The Pirates' former manager meets his old club four times this week.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013, 11:06 p.m.

After a pregame Q&A in Cleveland last week with reporters who cover his Tigers, Jim Leyland spotted an interloper from Pittsburgh.

“How 'bout them Buccos!” Leyland rumbled from behind the desk in the visiting manager's office at Progressive Field. “They're doin' good, aren't they?”

After more than 1,700 wins with four clubs over 22 seasons, three consecutive Pirates' division titles, a World Series triumph with Florida and a pair of pennants with the Tigers, Leyland remains a fan of the franchise to which he is bonded.

He provides a constant reminder of the good old days at Three Rivers Stadium more than two decades ago. Now, he is rooting for some good new days for the Buccos.

“I'm pullin' for 'em,” he said.

Except, of course, when they meet the club that pays his salary. The Tigers and Pirates play four games starting Monday, two in Detroit and two at PNC Park on Wednesday and Thursday. Leyland, who has a house in Thornburg, looks forward to returning. As always.

“That's my home,” he said. “We're gonna compete hard against 'em for four days, sleep in my own bed for a couple of days and enjoy seein' some of my friends, and move on.”

Leyland is now 68. The lines in his face are deeper, his hair and mustache have gone white. His Tigers were swept by San Francisco in the World Series, but he is ready for another run, his zest for the game “as strong as it's ever been since I came back (in 2006),” he said.

“He still has that fire and that enthusiasm and the passion for the game,” said outfielder Don Kelly, who is from Mt. Lebanon. “He still brings it every day.”

Picture this: Outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, who joined the Tigers as a free-agent and has created spelling and pronunciation issues for his manager, revealed that Leyland has been known to join the players in a clubhouse victory dance.

“He'll bust a move,” Tuiasosopo said through a big smile. “He's awesome. He's funny. He expects us to work hard. And win.”

But about the Pirates. “Who's this left-hander they got?” Leyland wanted to know.

That would be Jeff Locke, a young starter making his presence known. Leyland acknowledged he doesn't know all the names, although McCutchen, Burnett, Walker and Martin are familiar. So is Jason Grilli, who pitched in 51 games for Leyland in 2006 and helped win a pennant. Grilli is having a monster season after assuming the Pirates' closer role.

“He's been terrific,” Leyland said.

The Pirates “are coming of age now,” he said. “Some of those younger players are getting experience under pressure situations. They're much better, no question about it. They've got some speed, they've got some power. I don't know the pitching coach (Ray Searage), but he must be a fantastic pitching coach. And (Clint Hurdle) has got the experience. He's a terrific manager.”

As for the Tigers' manager, Leyland said his immediate plan is to stick around for a while. He referenced his good friend, Tony LaRussa, who managed for 33 years “and all of a sudden (the passion) was gone,” he said.

“I like to manage the best players in the world and compete against the best players in the world,” said Leyland. “And I still have the passion for it. As long as I do, I feel good about myself. If I don't have that, I'm goin' home.”

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