Pirates fan growing up, Kinney living the 'dream'
Competing for relief role with Bucs, veteran righty enjoying the moment
BRADENTON, Fla. -- There are people in other parts of the country who swear being able to profile people from western Pennsylvania. They have a certain earthy look, a glint in their eyes, a DNA purely native.
Josh Kinney has that glint, as he should, being born in Coudersport and high schooled in Port Allegany, both about a two-hour drive northeast of Pittsburgh.
That glint has been particularly sharp this spring, because Kinney has spent it as a Pittsburgh Pirate, wearing the same Black n' Gold for which he used to cheer from the seats of Three Rivers Stadium.
"I always dreamed of playing for the Pirates and putting on the black and gold," said Kinney. "It's a dream come true."
Kinney gets to live the dream again Wednesday. He will pitch for the Pirates in their exhibition game against the Twins in Fort Myers. Kinney doesn't know when he will have to wake up: he is a 34-year-old right-handed reliever in a Spring Training camp overpopulated with relief pitchers who are younger and throw harder. But for the time being, and for at least one more afternoon in the Florida sun, he gets to be that little kid who used to go into his backyard and pretend to be Andy Van Slyke or Jose Lind or any of the other Bucs he and his dad had just seen play.
Only, this time it's for real, not for pretend.
"To be able to come to Spring Training with this team … it's created a lot of buzz in my family," Kinney said. "We'll see what happens. Obviously, I want to pitch for the big league club, but I'm just enjoying the heck out of this spring and I am happy to be a Bucco."
This is hardly a kind gesture to check off an item on a lifelong fan's bucket list. Kinney is a bona fide Major Leaguer, the hardest-working kind, who was undrafted out of college (Illinois' Quincy University) and had to begin his pro career in the independent Frontier League to catch a big league scout's eye. That scout worked for the Cardinals, who purchased Kinney's contract from River City on June 15, 2001.
Five years and 303 Minor League games later, Kinney was in the Cards' bullpen, contributing 21 appearances to their 2006 World Series championship. Kinney did a lot to earn that ring on his finger: he appeared in seven games that postseason, and did not allow a run.
Kinney has been in and out of the bigs since -- a total of only 72 additional appearances with the Cardinals, with the White Sox and most recently with the 2012 Mariners -- but clearly is the real deal. As he has already been in four spring outings with the Bucs, who in November signed him to a Minor League contract that included a Spring Training invitation: four innings, a couple runs, four strikeouts.
Merely signing that contract felt like a new lease on Kinney's baseball life.
"I couldn't have had a better breath of fresh air than with this club, the way the skipper runs the ship," Kinney said, giving manager Clint Hurdle a new but entirely appropriate rank. "I'm more excited than anything about the winning attitude this club has. Last year, and the years under Clint leading up to it, have made a bold statement.
"When you see a team play hard and grind games out, people notice, and that's what this team has done the last couple of years. And last year was special. We're noticed now -- got a bull's-eye on our back."
Kinney has pitched in PNC Park, most recently on Sept. 14, 2008. Safe to say, that experience in St. Louis gray would be nothing compared to getting to step on that mound in Pittsburgh white.
"I love being back in the National League Central," Kinney said. "I've played against them and always dreamed of playing for the Pirates. This club is headed in the right direction. You can see it every day in the approach, and the execution. I couldn't be happier to be part of this club right now."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.