BRADENTON -- Nate McLouth said if there was one place he could have picked to play this season, it was Pittsburgh.
It’s no wonder. The 30-year-old outfielder broke into the majors with the Pirates in 2005 and enjoyed his breakout season in 2008 before departing for the Atlanta Braves and two-and-half subpar seasons.
Now he gets a second stint with the Pirates after signing as a free agent.
“I’ve driven up to this place so many times, obviously not in the last two years,” said McLouth of Pirate City, where Pittsburgh’s players work out. “But in the past 10, I’ve driven up here so many times it’s like I never left.”
Position players aren’t scheduled to report until Friday, but McLouth relishes getting to camp early.
“I always like to come in a few days early and get outside and just kind of get a little bit of a head start,” he said.
McLouth’s breakout season came with the Pirates in 2008 when was an All-Star. That season, he set career highs in practically every offensive category, including home runs (26), runs batted in (94), doubles (46) and batting average (.276).
The left-handed hitting center fielder left the following year for Atlanta. The Pirates traded McLouth in June of 2009 for then-minor leagues Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez after signing him to a three-year, $15.75 million contract before the season.
Things didn’t work out with the Braves. McLouth played no more than 85 games in his past two years. Atlanta opted to pay a $1.25 million buyout after declining a club option on his contract.
“It was tough performance-wise for me,” said McLouth, who hit a career-low .190 in 288 plate appearances in 2010. “I made some great friends, and that’s a great organization as well, just loaded with talent. I enjoyed the friendships and the relationships I made there. ... If I could put my finger on one or two things, I think it would have been a lot easier to turn things around. It just didn’t click for me there. I wish like heck it would have, but it didn’t. And I’m back here ... trying to turning it back around.”
Pitching coach Ray Searage said he loved McLouth during his first stint with the Pirates because of his tenacity.
“He was a fan favorite, and he goes out and plays hard ...,” Searage said. “The thing about Pittsburgh fans is they appreciate hard work, and they appreciate grit. They really enjoy watching players who give everything and their all, and if they come up short, it’s the effort that’s behind it. It’s the attitude that’s behind it.”
Meanwhile, McLouth is excited about being back and is hoping to restart his career where he became an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2008.
“That’s my goal. I appreciate the opportunity that I have to do here, and there’s no other place I’d rather do it than here,” he said.