Pirates' McCutchen a different type of leader

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 25, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The Pittsburgh Pirates' dream outfield is nearing reality.

When it does, when Gregory Polanco joins Starling Marte to fill the corner positions at PNC Park, it will make the man in the middle the group's elder statesmen.

That's right -- Andrew McCutchen, the pride of Fort Meade who is less than 10 years removed from being drafted out of high school, will be the oldest outfielder in the Pirates' starting lineup once Polanco, 22, considered the Pirates' top prospect who ended last season with Triple-A Indianapolis, gets the call to Pittsburgh

Marte is 25.

"It'll be a little different, having both of them out there and being the older guy of the bunch," McCutchen said. "At the same time, knowing those guys are going to bring a lot to the table is great."

The National League's reigning MVP, McCutchen won't turn 28 until October, making him younger than any of the three outfielders -- Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, 30, and Carlos Beltran, 36 -- expected to start for the New York Yankees, the Pirates' opponent for Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener at McKechnie Field.

Pittsburgh is a different animal, however, and McCutchen is a different player - a guy who is ready to embrace his ever-increasing leadership role in the Pirates' clubhouse but has absolutely no plans to exploit it.

"If Marte has something to say to me, I'm not going to be like, 'Dude, I've been in the big leagues longer than you, so I'm not going to listen to what you have to say,'" said McCutchen, who made his Pirates' debut in 2009. "If you have something to tell me, I'm going to sit there and listen regardless of how long I've been here and how long he's been here. I'm going to listen to what he has to say because it will probably

benefit you. I think that's the big key for any player."

McCutchen plans on leading with his play, a good choice considering he's coming off a stellar year that garnered the Pirates' their first MVP award since Barry Bonds won it 1992. And while Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has noticed McCutchen piping up a bit more in meetings, he doesn't expect his star to become a word man any time soon.

"By no means is he the guy who's doing all the talking and getting the group together. He loves leading by action," Hurdle said. "He knows there's more for him, there's more that he wants to get done in the game not just for himself, but for that city. It started when he inked a contract two springs ago to make that commitment to the organization, to be all in."

McCutchen attributes his quiet approach to his father, who instructed his son to live by a simple yet effective code.

"Listen before you speak - that was his big thing," McCutchen said. "You just don't hear and then blurt out whatever's it is that's going on. You listen. That's something I was big at - I was big on listening, I was big on not saying a whole lot. I would hear you out and listen to what you have to say, and then in a kind way, be able to express whatever it is that I'm feeling."

The face of a franchise that has vaulted back into baseball relevance, McCutchen is starting to gain national exposure, as well, something he cemented in December when he proposed to his girlfriend, Maria Hanslovan, in front of a national audience on "Ellen."

Marriage, McCutchen said, will help him better communicate with his teammates and vice versa, especially when he has to say something not-so-flowery.

"I would hear you out and listen to what you have to say, and then in a kind way, be able to express whatever it is that I'm feeling. If you want to have a really good relationship with your spouse, that's something that you have to do," he said. "I can't blurt out whatever's on my mind because that creates an argument. I have to go, 'All right, let me think how I'm going to say this because I don't want to make her mad.' That's kind of the way things go. I really think a relationship with your spouse helps when it comes to your teammates, because you want to be the same way: You want to approach them in a way where you have something to say. If it's criticism, I want to come at it like, 'All right, don't take it the wrong way -- but I have something I would like to share with you in your locker.'

"Don't share it in front of the whole dugout - do it in a tunnel when it's just you and him. Whatever it is that creates a really good vibe between you and that person."

Hurdle believes McCutchen is off to a good start, and ready to become the Pirates' old man in the middle.

"He does the things you want to see men do because it's selfless," Hurdle said. "There's not an agenda."

McCutchen agreed.

"If we have each other's back in the clubhouse and have that understanding of each other, that makes everything so much better," he saud, "because we're not putting ourselves on a pedestal and we're not saying,. 'I'm this guy - What I say goes.' It's more like, 'I'll listen to you as long as you listen to me. I'll respect you, respect me.' As long as we have that understanding, that creates a really good vibe in the clubhouse."

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