Hurdle not satisfied, wants to win it all in Steel City
Pirates manager feels at home in Pittsburgh, where fans have embraced club
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is heading into the final year of his contract.
Not that he cares.
Hurdle has only one focus -- getting the Pirates ready for the 2014 season. They made a major step forward in 2013, ending two decades of failure by having their first winning season and making the postseason for the first time since 1992.
He's looking for another leap forward this year.
"We want to win the division," said Hurdle. "We want to win the World Series. The football team has won six championships. We want to win six in baseball."
And if that happens, Hurdle knows, everything else takes care of itself.
Hurdle knows too well about hype. At the age of 20, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, proclaimed baseball's next superstar. While he did spend all or part of 10 seasons in the big leagues, he only played in as many as 100 games twice, including that rookie season of 1978. He made his final appearance in the big leagues at the age of 29.
Unmet expectations can be a burden, but for Hurdle they turned into a foundation. They helped him as a coach and manager to keep his focus on what is happening today, and not what people predict for tomorrow. It's why he shows up every day upbeat. He is looking forward to the daily challenges. He is able to shake off yesterday's disappointment.
"You want to make God laugh?" Hurdle often asks. "Tell him what you plan to do tomorrow."
That's why Hurdle is able to keep his sights on the opening of Spring Training next week, even though he, Fredi Gonzalez of Atlanta, Ron Roenicke of Milwaukee and Ron Washington of Texas are the only big league managers without guarantees past 2014.
Hurdle was in a similar situation a year ago, and the Pirates exercised his option for 2014 in the early days of camp, which most likely will happen this year.
"I don't have any worries," said Hurdle. "I have my health and I'm happy. That's all I need. I have a contract. The length of the contract never affects the way I do my job."
And Hurdle has done quite a job in Pittsburgh. Not only did he manage the Pirates into the postseason last season, but that came after seeing the Pirates let winning seasons slip away with second-half demises in 2011 and '12.
That, however, is now history. PNC Park has become the place to be in the Steel City.
"We are rebonding with the city," said Hurdle. "The pride and passion is back."
Funny thing is Hurdle actually feels the passion returned two years ago, despite a nightmarish second-half fade. The Pirates were in first place as late as July 18 in the 2012 season. They were 16 games over .500 (58-42) as late as July 28. They lost 41 of the final 62 games, won only seven of 28 games in September.
"The expectations actually began to change [in 2012]," said Hurdle. "People were visibly upset we were not in the playoffs. They had seen the team get better. They were frustrated."
In 2013, the initial needs were met. The Pirates did not have a losing record in any month. And more importantly they dealt with the pressure of a battle with Cincinnati for the top National League Wild Card spot, underscored by going into Cincinnati and sweeping a three-game series Sept. 27-29, putting the Pirates in command in the Wild Card.
The fans found a reason for celebration.
"The players are the big reason for that change," said Hurdle. "They have reestablished the feeling. They are the ones who wear the uniforms. They have rewarded the fan base that had waited so long."
Don't, however, downplay the role Hurdle has played in reviving fan interest in the Pirates.
He brought a visible face to the franchise, enjoying mingling with the public.
"I have to get groceries, I have to eat," he said. "The car needs gas. The kids go to school and someone has to drop them off and pick them up. … Pittsburgh is a fit for us, and I like to think we're a fit for Pittsburgh."
Hurdle also is a regular at the NFL's Steelers and NHL's Penguins home games. He and his daughter and son wear their personalized jerseys to the games, except when the Lions or Red Wings, the teams he has followed since childhood, are in town.
"We just stayed home those times," Hurdle said with a smile.
Hurdle, after all, has to stay true to himself.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.