Time to play ball


Dave Geisel phoned a pal back home Monday.

Home is Greenville, Pa., where it was 45 degrees.

“A heat wave,” the Pirates Booster Club member and snowbird joked here at Pirate City. “Last week it was single digits -- with lots of snow.”

Not where Geisel was sitting, manning the visitor’s entrance.

It was 65 degrees under clear blue skies, and the 71-year-old in shorts and shirtsleeves was waiting for the Pittsburgh Pirates to come out of the clubhouse.

So he called his pal just to rub it in a little.

“I said, ‘Pitchers and catchers are about to hit the field. Spring can’t be far behind,’” Geisel said, smiling. “He let out a cheer.”

Those magic words -- “pitchers and catchers report” -- came to life at the Pirates sprawling complex on 27th Street East shortly after noon when some 60 players streamed out of the clubhouse.

Wearing mustard-colored tops and long white game pants, many had black bat bags slung over their shoulders, heading toward green ballfields that looked putting-green perfect.

Their spikes went click-clack on the concrete walkway by the indoor batting cages that echoed with the sound of bats hitting balls.

“It feels good to get out on the field again,” said infielder Garrett Atkins, a non-roster invitee who played with Baltimore last year.

Some players took an amusingly circuitous route Monday.

An hour earlier, pitcher Mike Crotta was standing on a circular platform in a small tent, filming a Pirates’ commercial.

“OK, now release ... and pitch,” Ken Brown, the Pirates marketing director, told him.

Thump! went the ball striking one side of the tent.

It went on for about 15 minutes.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s not something I expected to be doing my first day for my first spring training,” said Crotta, drafted out of Florida Atlantic University in 2006.

“When you’re talking to a pitching coach, you have an idea of what he’s talking about. But these guys? I have no idea. It was just do this, do that and I just throw it.”

Brown’s crew will film players for two weeks.

“It’s TV time. It’s Hollywood. Make them look good,’” he said.

If only it were that easy.

One of the pitchers was Tyler Yates, another non-roster invitee trying to make the ballclub.

Monday held deep meaning for the 33-year-old veteran before the first official workout.

“The first day of spring training for me is revival of a career,” said Yates, who had elbow surgery in 2002, rotator cuff surgery in 2005, elbow surgery again in 2009 and didn’t pitch in 2010.

He was anxious to get onto the diamond.

“It’s the start of a new beginning for me,” Yates said.

Then there was Andrew McCutchen, now going into his third season as the Pirates starting centerfielder.

The Fort Meade native made his way around the clubhouse, shaking hands and embracing people before he changed into his uniform.

“It’s always something you look forward to,” said the 24-year-old star. “You reunite with your teammates, friends you haven’t seen for four or five months.”

Now it was back to work.

“It’s your job, something you love doing. But I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love to be in our position, so I never take it for granted,” McCutchen said. “Every day is a new day in spring training.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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