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Hurdle excited for opportunity with Pirates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Call it subtraction by addition.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have encountered their share of hurdles during the organization's current run of 18 consecutive losing seasons in Major League Baseball.

To overcome them, they added a Hurdle.

Pittsburgh brass got the manager it coveted this offseason in Clint Hurdle, a bespectacled 53-year-old with spiky salt-and-pepper hair you won't see when he dons a black Pirates cap once spring training commences Feb. 14 in Bradenton, Fla.

Hurdle was hired to replace the fired John Russell on Nov. 15, and has since been acquainting himself with players at all levels of the organization, meeting with front office officials and scouts, and getting to know fans. The latter brought him to Charleston on Sunday for the Pirates Winter Caravan.

Hurdle isn't intimidated by the Pirates' streak of futility, or the 57-105 record that resulted in his predecessor's dismissal.

"The one point that I continue to share with everybody here is that as an outsider looking in, this organization has always intrigued me," Hurdle said.

"For 10 years in the '70s the Pirates franchise was one of the jewels of Major League Baseball. I got to see a lot of Pirates baseball, a lot of Pirates players.

"Knowing the history that's gone on the last 18 seasons, there's not a greater coaching opportunity in all of professional sport than there is in Pittsburgh right now."

Hurdle batted .259 with 32 home runs and 193 runs batted in during an 11-year Major League career (1977-87) that included stops with the Royals, Reds, Mets and Cardinals.

He received his first managing gig with the Colorado Rockies in 2002. By 2007, the Rockies finished 90-73 and reached the World Series.

"There's a lot of common fabric here," Hurdle said. "The Pirates stage is similar to where the Rockies were in 2005. We had a core group, we had to improve off the mound, we had to catch it.

"This is a fan base that's so hungry like they were in Colorado, but with so much more tradition."

Pirates President Frank Coonelly said Hurdle's Colorado experience was a primary factor in the organization's choice.

"He's done it before," Coonelly said. "He had a very similar situation in Colorado when he began his career and they were actually where we were a couple years ago.

"Clint is a positive motivator. He'll demand accountability and demand respect, but he also understands what it takes to get players to play at their very highest potential. Having him bring that energy and positivity here I think is the right time given where we are in our progression."

Pittsburgh won the World Series in 1971 and 1979 and reached three consecutive postseasons from 1991-93. Since then, the Pirates' best season was four games under .500 - 79-83 - in 1997. The franchise has lost at least 94 games in each of the past six seasons.

But there are reasons for optimism.

The average age for Pittsburgh's hitters last season was 26.5, the youngest since 1988 (26.2). The '88 club included a 23-year-old Barry Bonds, 25-year-old Bobby Bonilla and 27-year-old Andy Van Slyke. Three seasons later, the Pirates started its three-year playoffs run.

This year's Pirates will lean on outfielders Andrew McCutchen (24 years old), Jose Tabata (22) and Garrett Jones (29); third baseman Pedro Alvarez (23); and second baseman Neil Walker (25).

"To win, that's the main goal," said Jones, who hit 21 home runs and drove in 86 runs last season. "We've brought in Clint Hurdle, who is an awesome guy and a leader. He's going to kick us in the butt when we need it. We have enough talent to win games."

Coonelly said the Pirates' plethora of young talent steered them away from making any big free-agent splashes. Instead the organization focused on complementary veteran pieces like first baseman Lyle Overbay, outfielder Matt Diaz, and pitchers Kevin Correia and Joe Beimel.

The biggest offseason acquisition could end up being Hurdle.

"It's hard to argue there's a more important pick-up," Coonelly said. "I think a reflection of that is that each of these subsequent pick-ups in the free agent market, each of them have said one of the primary reasons why they wanted to come to Pittsburgh was Clint Hurdle.

"All of the guys are ready to get going under Clint Hurdle."

Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at chuck.mcgill@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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