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Biertempfel: Pirates' Hurdle humbled to serve as coach in Midsummer Classic

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle watches from the dugout during a game against the Mets on Saturday, June 28, 2014, at PNC Park.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014, 9:10 p.m.
 

Clint Hurdle was at his North Hills home preparing to go to an awards dinner when his cell phone rang. Glancing at the screen, Hurdle wondered why St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would be calling him on a frosty February night.

Because he took the Cardinals to the World Series last year, Matheny has the honor of managing the National League team in the 2014 All-Star Game. Matheny gets to pick two coaches for his staff, and he wanted to know if Hurdle was interested.

“I was humbled when he asked,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle paused and laughed.

“I told him I needed a day or two to talk to my wife.”

The Hurdles had plans to spend the All-Star break at a Florida beach house. But the opportunity to participate in an All-Star Game doesn't come around often, especially for a guy who retired as a player in the 1980s.

“You never know when you get to go to your last one,” Hurdle said.

Karla Hurdle gave the invite her blessing. She's still taking their kids to the shore.

“For me, this is like making the Little League all-star team again,” Hurdle said. “This is one of the coolest things. It's an event with a lot of good baseball people, players and coaches, and I'll be a small part of it.”

Hurdle is the first Pirates coach to participate in an All-Star Game since Jim Tracy in 2006, when the event was at PNC Park. Hurdle managed the NL All-Star squad in 2008 when he was with the Colorado Rockies.

Matheny said Hurdle was an obvious candidate for the job.

“I've enjoyed competing against him,” Matheny said. “I have a lot of respect for him, with what he's been able to do with that organization and in the game. He's been there (in the All-Star Game) before, which I think is very valuable for a guy who has not.”

Matheny did his homework before assembling his staff. At the Winter Meetings, he talked to several former and current managers about how they made their selections.

“They basically said (to choose) guys you have a rapport with and who you respect in the business,” Matheny said. “I feel that (Hurdle and Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez) could add some value into helping us win this thing because it's not just a badge of honor anymore. It has purpose.”

The league that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series.

Matheny was a catcher for the Cardinals in 2002 when Hurdle took over as Rockies manager. Hurdle caught a little in his playing days, and he liked Matheny's style.

“Very cerebral catcher,” Hurdle said. “Tough guy. Could handle the bat and do some things. Could handle a pitching staff.”

When the Cardinals hired Matheny as manager before the 2012 season, a mutual friend gave him Hurdle's number.

“He asked me, ‘What kind of core values do you bring to the manager's seat?' ” Hurdle recalled. “This wasn't typical talk about hit-and-run plays or signs. This was leadership stuff.”

The two have become close friends. Hurdle said he sees a lot of Matheny's traits when he watches the Cardinals play.

“They are task-specific,” Hurdle said. “They respect everything. They are well-exercised in detail. They're very professional. Mike played with a very stoic, gladiator-like mentality, and I think you see that with their players.”

Matheny's Cardinals are 16-18 against Hurdle's Pirates in regular-season games but won the 2013 NL Division Series in five games.

“We've talked, we've shared books, we've shared information and family stories,” Hurdle said. “We've grown to be friends. Then came the playoffs, and we still had a lot of personal and professional respect for one another.”

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

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