<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="BRADENTON, Fla. — There were the years you’d drive to the ballpark here, beneath the Spanish moss falls, past the tire shops and used car lots and the motel with the stray dogs on the stoops, to find one young man, the center fielder who was going to make the world right for the
He guessed Friday morning this is his 12th big-league spring camp, stared at the ceiling and ran the seasons through his head, came up with 12 and nodded at that. He’d come out of one of those camps to lose 99 games once, 105 games another time, 90 the year after that, near the end of a generation in which the Pirates were so terrible.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Still, you’d have to come to the little ballpark at the corner of 9th and 17th to see
Look at him now, though, surrounded by young men with live bodies and their own big futures, by a team that fell off some last season but is not without grander plans, sipping a morning coffee and feeling, perhaps, for the first time, somewhat – what? – marginalized? Underestimated? Forgotten? Resolute. Let’s go with that.
“I got up this morning like I always do, for one being thankful,” he said. “Thankful that I’m up. That I started my day. Thank the good Lord for that first.”
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="He’s a right fielder today and not a center fielder, which he would view as a demotion. He could’ve been had in a trade last summer, and again this winter, which he may have viewed as unsettling. He didn’t say. He’s the guy coming off his least productive professional season, that coming a year after he was fifth in the National League MVP voting, that a year after he finished third in the same vote, that a year after he won the thing. The batting average, the on-base percentage, the defensive metrics, there was nowhere to go to find a number that would say otherwise, that Andrew McCutchen had posted anything but a very average season, that he was among the reasons the Pirates lost 83 games and not among the daily solutions for it. Soon after,
“We feel good [about it],” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Friday. “We feel confident. Just as importantly, Andrew feels good and confident.”
He turned 30 in October, insignificant except perhaps for the miles that come with it and also the assumptions that come with it, none of which McCutchen can do much about until April. Last season comes with it, too. He said he didn’t feel any worse for the years or the miles, not even on the mornings like this when the early swings are starting to add up and the first days can settle into a guy’s legs like a pair of sandbag pants. No, he said, he’s strong and capable and if anyone thinks otherwise, well, “They’re not me. How are they supposed to know how I feel?”
What that leaves McCutchen with is today, that conducted before a broad audience that seems more willing to believe one season than the previous seven. The plan, then, he said, is to do the right-field thing, which he called, “Not a big deal. I’m an athlete.” Followed, he said, by the routine of, “Just showing up, going out there and doing it, keeping my mouth shut.”
If that sounds like a man determined to make something of this camp, then of the season, it did in the moment as well. Maybe he had one rough season and maybe that’s just what he is now, there’s no knowing until the next at-bats come, but McCutchen clearly believes in the former, and he’s clearly going to enjoy being the guy standing at the end having proven it.
To whom, exactly, well there’s a lot of ways that can go.
“I’ll do what’s asked,” he said. “You put a smile on your face. You get the job done. You just go from there.
“It is what it is. Keep your mouth shut, do your job. … I’ve always thought that if you say something it may feel good in the moment. But actions are something that last. Something that’s permanent. That’s going to leave a lasting impression.”
The drive away from 9th and 17th passes the same old landmarks, still upright after all the years. The people change, the colors of the dogs change, a few signs, but not the route. The way in is still the way in, the way out still the way out. The rest is distraction. The rest is just talk.
“I’m just gonna do what I’ve always done,” Andrew McCutchen said. “It may surprise some people. It won’t surprise me.”