BRADENTON, Fla. -- Everyone already knows the story about Neil Walker being Pittsburgh's child. How he grew up not far from downtown. How Pirates baseball was always a fixture on the Walker household television. How he always dreamed of playing along the banks of the Allegheny River.
And yet, Walker is not the only one in camp boasting Pittsburgh connections. His ties to the Pirates and to the city may not be as widely publicized, but for Joe Beimel, that bond runs just as deep.
In signing a Minor League deal with the Pirates late in January, Beimel returns to a city that he very much considers home. Technically, Beimel grew up about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. But the city of St. Marys is very much Pirates territory, which made it especially gratifying when Beimel was selected by Pittsburgh in the 18th round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft.
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Beimel attended dozens of games at Three Rivers Stadium both as a kid and while he was pitching for Duquesne University, which sits only a healthy walk from the Pirates' ballpark.
He experienced the first few years of the team's current 18-year losing skid as a fan. He then felt it as a player. And Beimel watched the frustrating string of losing seasons continue in stops with five other teams after being released by Pittsburgh in 2004.
From afar, though, Beimel also recently got the sense that the organization is beginning to turn it around. That's one of the reasons why, when the Pirates strongly pursued the left-hander over the winter, he listened closely.
After enduring many of the years of losing along with the Pittsburgh fan base, Beimel didn't want to miss out on a chance to be a part of the group that finally turns it around.
"I felt like if this was the year that they were going to win, I wanted to be a part of that," Beimel said. "It's one of those things that I would love to be a part of. I would love to be able to tell my kids that after all the years of losing, I was on the team that was able to win."
Though he was the last player the club signed this offseason, Beimel is in line to play a key role in the Pirates' bullpen. With few other left-handed options, he is likely to become the team's primary left-handed setup man, and potentially the only left-hander in the seven-man bullpen.
Beimel was scheduled to pitch in the Pirates' spring home opener on Sunday, but was held out after feeling soreness in his left elbow. Beimel had left McKechnie Field by the time the Pirates revealed the injury, and no one on the club offered any additional information except to say that his status is day-to-day.
The Pirates can only hope that the soreness does not becoming a lingering issue.
One of the bigger questions Beimel has to answer this season is whether or not he can be more than just a left-handed specialist. He slotted into such a role for much of the second half of 2010 with the Rockies despite having decent career success against right-handers.
A glance at Beimel's numbers against right-handers last season -- they batted .329 against him -- would seem to justify moving him into a specialist role. Beimel contends, however, that his final numbers were skewed because of the way he was used.
"When you're only facing one or two righties a week, your margin for error is very little," Beimel said. "When you're constantly facing a left-hander, you're usually on the glove side of the plate and you kind of lose the feel for the other side.
"I feel like if I'm facing right-handers enough, I'll be able to get them out."
At least to begin with, the Pirates are going to give Beimel the opportunity to face plenty of right-handed batters.
Beimel's influence is expected to be felt off the mound as well. As a 10-year veteran, no one on the Pirates' roster has been in the Majors as long as Beimel. The thought of being a leader in the bullpen is one that excites the left-hander, who still remembers how Mike Williams and Scott Sauerbeck took him under their wings during his stay in Pittsburgh.
"Hopefully I can be that guy to some of these guys," Beimel said. "Hopefully I can pass on some wisdom to some of the guys who haven't been around that much. I'm just going to look to be myself and not try and do too much. It's something that will definitely be challenging."
It's also a role that manager Clint Hurdle -- who first met Beimel when he skipped out on a high school basketball tournament during his senior year to attend Hurdle's baseball camp in Cocoa Beach, Fla. -- envisions Beimel taking to extremely well.
"He's got an edge to him that he carries around," Hurdle said. "He's not a big talker -- he's a doer. I think the guys in the locker room are starting to gravitate to that a little bit. He doesn't need pompoms to lead. He goes about his business in a very professional manner."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.