Sports

Pirates players have sports heroes. They’re part of the latest team building exercise.

Todd Cunningham of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes contact during Sunday’s game against the Boston Red Sox at LECOM Park.
Todd Cunningham of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes contact during Sunday’s game against the Boston Red Sox at LECOM Park. twhitley@bradenton.com

Taped inside various lockers is an inspiration for each Pittsburgh Pirates player.

It’s in the form of a baseball card.

Well, some chose non-baseball pro athletes.

It’s the team’s latest move to try to build team bonding.

The Pirates had players walk a plank at LECOM Park’s backfields in groups the last couple years.

Each group member had a different role in the exercise: one was blindfolded and another wore headphones to mute sound, for example. The idea was to create teamwork.

Fans saw the activity from atop the right field boardwalk area.

There’s also an annual cooking competition modeled after the TV show, “Chopped,” that accomplishes team building through non-baseball activities in the spring.

The latest innovation for the Pirates is having a baseball or non-baseball card, of the player’s choosing, taped to their locker this spring. It serves as an inspiration to each player.

“A couple guys have talked and it’s been fun to listen to why they picked who they picked,” third baseman Colin Moran said. “And why that influenced them growing up.”

Christopher Bostick picked Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier by being the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball.

“That’s a pretty self-explanatory one,” said Bostick about why he chose Robinson.

Robinson’s story was brought to Hollywood in 2013 with the film, “42.” Chadwick Boseman, who currently stars in the Marvel hit, “Black Panther,” played Robinson.

“When you watch a movie like (42), to kind of look into what really did go on,” Bostick said. “It kind of sparks people’s interest to understand what actually did happen. ... When you haven’t been there, you haven’t experienced something, you tend to just make up your opinion about it instead of actually going back and looking at what actually happened.”

The movie aside, Robinson’s life and what he endured is also still relevant today, Bostick said.

“There’s so many other issues than just black or white,” Bostick said. “Opportunity is different for all types of people. So obviously what he did is still relevant today and will be relevant forever. It’s not something you can really take away, and something everybody can continue to work on. Trying to be inclusive and understand that not everybody has the same opportunities as other people.”

Bostick isn’t the only Pittsburgh player with a sports card on his locker.

Sean Rodriguez idolized Cal Ripken Jr. when he was growing up and he followed Ripken’s pursuit of “The Streak.”

Jordan Luplow, a Pirates prospect, opted for a non-baseball player for his inspiration: former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders.

Luplow said he grew up a Lions fan and always watched Sanders.

“I remember playing Monopoly with my grandmother, it was the NFL version,” Luplow said. “And they had players and teams as the cards instead of the houses and names. One of them was Barry Sanders. And the rule was if you got Barry Sanders, you won the game. It didn’t matter.”

The way Sanders played football was something Luplow said was instilled in him at an early age by his own father.

“He was like, ‘Look at what he does. Just act like you’ve been there before,’ ” Luplow said.

Moran, who the Pirates acquired in an offseason trade with the Houston Astros, picked former Pirates and San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

“He was just my favorite player, because he hit so many homers,” Moran said.

Moran said he watched Bonds’ swing all the time. The way Bonds approached the plate also left an impression on Moran.

“The way he controlled the strike zone and didn’t strike out much, just took his walks and when they did throw it over the strike zone, he’d crush you,” Moran said. “So it was definitely something to try to watch and learn as much as you could.”

▪ In Sunday’s action, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Pirates, 2-1, in front of 7,035 fans at LECOM Park. The split-squad game was one of two for Pittsburgh, with the other being a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

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