BRADENTON - Pitchers and catchers for the Pittsburgh Pirates reported to spring training in Bradenton Tuesday for the 45th year.
It’s February and the smell of baseball is in the air all over Florida, but especially in Bradenton. But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle loves the smell of victory in the morning. “I have as much excitement the first day like today, as I've ever had. And sometimes you think in some areas, it's even more…but it's a special day.”
You see, even after suffering through their 20th straight losing season with a 79-83 record in 2012, each year they have been getting more talented and closer to the mountaintop. “These guys can see it, they’ve felt it, they can touch it. We are aware of what we need to do to finish it off,” says Hurdle.
A.J. Burnett has been in the majors since 1999. He came up with the Marlins, who won just 64 games his rookie season, so he knows losing. But he won a World Series in 2009 with the Yankees, so he knows winning, and he loves the feel of seeing these young guys experience winning for the first time. “I just know that during the season, we were in a good spot. We never got down on ourselves, we never felt like we were out of it. Leaving the season like that with the expectations that we knew we could reach, and we didn’t reach them, so it’s time to go harder this year and get to those goals.”
There has definitely been a culture shift. As younger stars emerge, more talent is being added to the mix, no stop-gap measures. This team is expecting to win, and win for the long-haul. “You know, when you go out to talk to free agents in the offseason, you get men that look forward to coming here for all the right reasons, because of the way we’ve gone about our work and our business, and our play,” says Hurdle.
“Even when things don't go great, you’ve just got to keep your head up, and you’ve got to believe in yourself. And that’s the plan this year, believing in ourselves. And we believe. 2013, we believe,” says pitcher Jared Hughes.
The Pirates open their spring training schedule at Port Charlotte against the Rays on February 23rd. Their home opener is the next day at McKechnie Field against the Braves.