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Pirates notebook: Hurdle, Leyland share common Pittsburgh thread

| Monday, March 31, 2014, 5:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Former Pirates manager Jim Leyland presents manager Clint Hurdle with his 2013 Manager of the Year award during a ceremony before the home opener against the Cubs on Monday, March 31, 2014, at PNC Park.

Manager Clint Hurdle came to Pittsburgh as an out-of-towner and wound up becoming a beloved figure in the community. It didn't take him long to turn the Pirates from losers to playoff participants.

Jim Leyland has seen it before. In fact, Leyland lived it before.

“It reminds me a little bit of when I came here,” Leyland said. “Once I got acclimated here, I became a Pittsburgher, and they accepted me. I think (Hurdle) has done that. He's accepted Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh's accepted him, and I think it's a great marriage.”

Leyland was named NL Manager of the Year in 1990 and '92 after leading the Pirates to division titles. Monday, he presented Hurdle with the 2013 award before the season opener against the Chicago Cubs.

It took Leyland five years to turn around the Pirates. Hurdle is entering his fourth season with the team.

“Clint's done a great job communicating with the city, as well as the players,” Leyland said. “That's what the Pirates needed. He's a good strategist, but most of all he knows how to deal with people. You have to know how to deal with all the players a little bit different. You have to get the same results, but in order to get those results you have to deal with different players differently. That's Clint's strong suit.”

Special day for Ishikawa

Travis Ishikawa started at first base and made his second appearance in an Opening Day lineup. In 2009, he started at first for the San Francisco Giants and went 2 for 5 with three RBIs.

“I've heard they're trying to make this a national holiday, and I'm 100 percent behind that,” Ishikawa said. “There's just something special about it.”

That's especially true for Ishikawa, who went into spring training as a non-roster invitee and played his way onto the team.

“The Pirates gave me a great opportunity, and I want to pay them back,” he said. “I want to show them they made the right decision.”

The Pirates have had a different Opening Day first baseman in each of the past six seasons. Gaby Sanchez, who was in the lineup in 2013, was benched Monday. Ishikawa is a left-handed hitter, and the Cubs started their ace, right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

“It won't be a cookie-cutter platoon,” Hurdle said. “There will be a lot better opportunities for Gaby (against righties) than there was today.”

Sellout crowd

The game drew a crowd of 39,833, the largest regular-season attendance at PNC Park.

“I think it's absolutely remarkable and humbling what the community has done, the support that these fans have shown for the team,” owner Bob Nutting said. “Frankly, they showed that when the team was not performing. But then you get to the wild-card game and all the talk over the winter about Pirates baseball ... and now this opener, I think it speaks volumes about Pittsburgh fans and their level of commitment.”

Around the horn

Catcher Chris Stewart, recovering from knee surgery, took swings off a tee and in pregame batting practice on the field.

Stewart will return to Bradenton, Fla., for extended spring training and expects to play in rehab games next week with Triple-A Indianapolis. ... The MLB Network will televise Saturday's home game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The game will be carried in the Pittsburgh area.

Staff writer Dejan Kovacevic contributed. Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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