02/15/11 11:29 AM EST
Hurdle wants to build championship mind-set
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Beginning with his Nov. 15 introductory news conference, the Pirates' new manager has promised accountability and preached the importance of fundamentals. His gregarious demeanor has resonated well with a fan base that seems to crave outward displays of emotion.
His passion for the game has enthused players. His experience as a big league manager seems an added bonus. His feeling for the tradition-rich past of the franchise is true.
Words, though, will soon mean little. Almost a half-dozen managers have come and gone before Hurdle. They all -- in varying deliveries -- said the same things. All this talk about changing the culture, instilling confidence and brightening the future of the franchise is hardly anything new.
Therein lies Hurdle's seemingly unenviable task as the 39th manager in franchise history.
Tangible improvement must follow those grandiose speeches. Hurdle must convince players and coaches -- some new, others who have been in the organization for years -- that this year really will be different from the past 18.
And ultimately, Hurdle must again bond the city of Pittsburgh with a once-proud Pirates franchise, the way the city is connected with its professional football and hockey teams.
"We will be here, proud of the name on the front of the jersey and humbled that our name is on the back of the jersey," Hurdle recently told a group of players. "We're the part of the triangle that hasn't bonded itself. They've got that Steeler thing going on. They've got that Penguin thing going on. We've got to get our edge back. We've got to put ourselves right back in front."
That work started in earnest on Monday, when Hurdle conducted the team's first official Spring Training workout. Hurdle has been here before. Well, not technically here, in Bradenton, but here in the sense that he took on a similar task with the Rockies last decade.
During his time in Colorado, Hurdle oversaw the reconstruction of an organization. He was patient while young players developed, and he saw how integral the Minor League system is to sustaining big league success.
"I think the optimism would have been here regardless, but Clint certainly takes it to a whole different level," general manager Neal Huntington said on Monday. "We talked about how we wanted to change the voice and change the direction a little bit, and Clint has certainly done that."
Hurdle saw the Rockies' model culminate in a 90-win season and World Series appearance in 2007. He was dismissed from the club in '09 and last season served as the Rangers' hitting coach on their run to the World Series. Because of his success in Colorado, Hurdle had no qualms about accepting the Pirates' managerial offer. He saw something familiar and intriguing in the job.
Plenty of friends, Hurdle admitted, cautioned him against making this particular managerial job his next. He was warned that such a move could be devastating to his career.
He was undeterred.
Pittsburgh, he insists, is where he belongs. And there is a reason why he keeps that Joe Paterno quote -- "You've got to believe deep inside yourself that you are destined to do great things" -- scribbled on a piece of paper in his pocket.
"The commitment level is real. It's sincere," Hurdle said. "I didn't come here just to manage. I was not trying to figure out the next way to manage the next day after I got fired in Colorado. I was looking for an opportunity to help make a difference. The biggest reason I am here is because I believe I can help make a difference with the people who are in place."
Earning the respect and trust of his new players is where Hurdle's attention is in these early days of camp. Without the players relinquishing the ownership of the past 18 years, little can change.
Hurdle's message emphasizes the need to ignore public perception, to not buy into any media-driven assumption that there is only minimal hope on the horizon.
"We're not going to get caught up in other people's opinions," he said. "We'll listen. I think we're going to challenge ourselves much more than anyone outside of the clubhouse."
So what are Hurdle's expectations? They're not in numbers. That much he has made known. He expects -- demands, even -- that fundamentals be executed and that the little things be done consistently. Outworking and outhustling is a must.
What Hurdle isn't striving for is that magic figure of 82 victories and a winning record. Again, the attempts to distance the organization from the past and to set higher-than-mediocre standards moving forward are a priority. Breaking a streak is not.
"I know this: We're not going to print T-shirts that say, 'Let's break the streak! Let's play .500! Woo!' " Hurdle said. "That's not what we're here for. Our focus is going to be about building a championship mentality."
Taking steps in that direction will ultimately achieve Hurdle's vision of winning back Pittsburgh. Having spent time in the city this winter, he is well aware that the city unites around its sports teams. And selfishly, he is already craving a similar scene at PNC Park.
"I just feel like I'm lucky to be getting on the bus right now," he said. "For me, this is an exciting time. I'm looking forward to being a part of something significant and special here."
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.