Chris Bostick plants his feet on a wooden two-by-four. Pittsburgh Pirates teammates flank him, and he’s guided on this walk along the plank — because Bostick is wearing a blindfold.
Others in his group are hindered in other ways, such as having their hearing impaired with noise-canceling headphones or not being allowed to talk.
The exercise, which took place during an otherwise mundane spring training day at LECOM Park, is one of several designed to break the monotony of March and to provide team-bonding experiences for the players.
The Pirates also experienced a movie night, a cooking competition and a visit to Escape Bradenton, which is one of the increasingly popular escape room facilities, located off Cortez Road West.
For a newer face in the organization such as Bostick, who was recently optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, the plank walk drill offered a chance at something unique within the Pirates’ organization.
“A lot of places don’t do stuff like this,” said Bostick, who has been with the Oakland A’s, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals organizations.
This spring, the Pirates also adopted a theme, “Ownership,” that comes equipped with a concise message at the end of each game day’s player instructions: “We Own.”
After a 2016 season that didn’t yield a fourth consecutive playoff berth, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and his staff adopted that daily accountability reminder for the players and the organization.
“The more responsible and accountable you can be, the more you think of yourself and your teammates,” Pirates reliever Jared Hughes said. “And you’re better as a whole.”
Super film choice
One of the dates on this year’s March calendar was listed as a movie night. For Sarasota’s Joey Terdoslavich, the movie choice was right up his alley.
The Pirates took in “Logan,” the latest superhero film involving Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Marvel Comics’ celebrated character, Wolverine.
“I’m a big Wolverine fan, so that was sweet,” said Terdoslavich, who is a non-roster invitee this spring.
A championship belt was on the line, so this team bonding activity brought out the competitive fire with each professional ballplayer.
The Pirates gathered outside the Bill McKechnie Clubhouse in late February at LECOM Park. Split into teams, a cooking competition in the vein of The Food Network’s show “Chopped” took place.
“These types of things, I’ve never done before,” said reliever Pat Light, who was recently optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis and was with Boston in past springs. “It’s kind of unique to Pittsburgh, at least the places that I have been.”
The championship title could have been mistaken for a World Wrestling Entertainment or pro boxing belt, except the Pittsburgh ‘P’ was centered with the “world champions,” words along the top in black.
That and an additional trophy is what the players aimed to capture.
Francisco Cervelli, Gift Ngoepe, Daniel Hudson and Jared Lakind were the winners for their pesto chicken pasta dish.
“That’s what makes the whole thing such a cool event,” Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “Because you get all these different nations together and foods and whatnot. And you mix it all together.”
The event took the players away from thinking about baseball and gave them a chance at working together as a unit to do something they might not be super comfortable with.
It’s an activity, that at its core, should help the Pirates endure a 162-game regular-season grind over the next six-plus months.
Walk into a room, figure out some clues and leave. Seems simple, right?
Well, the Escape Bradenton facility isn’t an easy task. The Pirates utilized the first of their two off days this March to experience something new that required critical thinking and teamwork to figure everything out in the allotted 60-minute time limit.
“I didn’t know what to expect going in,” Terdoslavich said. “I kind of had an idea of what it was going to be like. But it was a group effort. I mean, it took a lot of heads ... to figure out the clues and how to get out.”
Terdoslavich said his team escaped their room in 40 minutes.
Between that, walking the plank, a movie night and the “Chopped” cooking competition, Pittsburgh players elevated their team camaraderie and sharpened their teamwork skills.
Now less than a week away from the Grapefruit League season ending, the Pirates will indeed escape Bradenton to begin the long regular season.
Whether a playoff berth and a World Series championship await at the end of the journey is unknown, Pittsburgh hopes the multiple team-bonding activities during the preseason will help in those critical and adverse times that arise in a 162-game Major League Baseball season.
“This is the first year we’ve actually done specific activities,” Mercer said. “And kind of put a wrinkle in things, which is nice to throw a wrinkle in spring training because ... it’s the same thing over and over. So it’s good to mix it up, especially a team event.”