Pittsburgh Pirates | Owner says Pirates already on to next challenge

Nutting echoes Hurdle, says club trying to surpass, not match, 2013

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Pirates Nutting Baseball

FILE - In this June 8, 2011 file photo, Pittsburgh Pirates Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting, right, and President Frank Coonelly, left, watch batting practice before a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Pittsburgh. Nutting says he's tired of losing. It's playoff or bust for his team, which the owner says could face major changes if they don't break through this season. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

GENE J. PUSKAR — AP

BRADENTON -- Standing in the middle of sun-splashed Pirate City on Wednesday morning, Bob Nutting remembered how it felt leaving St. Louis following last year's National League Division Series.

The owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates was proud of how his team put an end to two decades of losing and revitalized one of the sport's most tradition-rich franchises. But that didn't make a season-ending Game 5 loss to the Cardinals any easier to stomach.

"It was hard. That stung," Nutting said after he addressed the Pirates players and coaches Wednesday. "We were so close, and as it continued on, absolutely could have been there, should have been there, could have gone farther."

While last season was a watershed moment for Pittsburgh, which hadn't seen a winning season since 1992 before last year's edition stockpiled 94 wins and a victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card playoff, it left the team yearning for more.

Consequently, prior to the Pirates' first full-squad workout of the spring Tuesday, manager Clint Hurdle met with this players and coaches and officially closed the book on the 2013 season.

Yes, it was special. Now it's time to surpass it.

"This is the next challenge, and we don't get to this challenge without meeting the challenge of last season," said Hurdle, the reigning National League Manager of the Year. "It's an incremental process. Now we don't want to sustain or maintain anything; we want to get better. We want to get better each and every day. We want to get better as a group; I want to get better as a manager. ... All of us, if we keep that focus in play that we want and need to improve, that's what we need to be for me."

This isn't the first time Hurdle helped breathe baseball life back into a city. He was the manager when the Colorado Rockies made a stunning run to the World Series in 2007 and was the Texas Rangers' hitting coach when that team made its first World Series in 2010.

"That's fortunate. I've been a very fortunate man to be able to watch those levels of joy just spread throughout a city," he said, "The people that sell season tickets, the vendors on the street, restaurateurs, hotels -- all of it comes into play if you have some awareness and to see what you're able to bring for others."

The Pirates didn't do a lot of retooling in the offseason aside from re-signing shortstop Clint Barmes and acquiring free agent Edinson Volquez to help shore up the back end of the pitching rotation.

They also parted ways with pitcher A.J. Burnett, who signed a 1-year, $16 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Opening Day is nearly two months away. But while not ruling out making a move, Nutting likes the team's chances should it move into the regular season as is.

"I don't think individually I'm built to ever say I'm completely satisfied. We need to keep pushing; we need to get better," he said. "At the same time, I think the process was strong, I think the additions were strong, and I am very enthusiastic about the team that we have to put on the field, very enthusiastic about the rotation. Were there some areas where we talked about being able to build and supplement? Absolutely. Are we in a strong position to put a team (on the field) that I have faith is going to not only compete but excel in 2014? Absolutely."

Hurdle hopes his team takes some of last year's lessons and applies it to the coming season.

"We got very professional of taking care of today, of taking care of playing in the moment," he said, "individually and collectively as a club. When we finished a challenge, then they prepared for the next challenge. I don't want them to take that away. I don't want them to take away the importance of the next man up, how we continue to focus on what we do have and not what we don't have."

No one will forget the Pirates' 2013 season any time soon.

Want the organization wants next is for 2014 to be just as, or even more, memorable.

"In the big picture, I think it's great for the organization. That sting, that hurt is a motivator," Nutting said. "Are we in a position to continue to grow, continue to grow, continue to improve? Absolutely. That's what we've been working to, and I think we're in a great position to do that."

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