Monday, Jan. 6, was the first day of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ voluntary workout at Pirate City, which meant there were plenty of team hats scattered across the complex.
One stood out in particular, and not just because it belonged to Andrew McCutchen, the most high-profile Pirate of them all.
On the side of McCutchen’s black, yellow-brimmed cap was a patch from last year’s postseason, the first that included the Pirates since 1992.
“I just grabbed a hat, threw it on and went outside,” he said. “I was a little late, so I didn’t know what everybody was wearing.”
Had McCutchen wanted to hold on to 2013 a little longer, however, nobody could have blamed him. It was a special season for McCutchen, the Pirates and the city they represent, one that resulted in Pittsburgh’s first winning season and playoff berth in 21 years.
In the middle of it was McCutchen, a Fort Meade native who wound up winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player award and becoming the face of a franchise that has finally turned a corner.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” McCutchen said. “Last year was a whirlwind, but it was a whirlwind of fun. I had a lot of fun doing it, and I think that’s why I’m like, ‘Dang, the season’s about to start up again.’ ... But it’s all good, though. ... When you have so much fun, you can’t wait for it to start again. And next thing you know, it’s right around the corner.”
Fun hadn’t been part of the Pirates’ vocabulary. The team strung together 20 consecutive losing seasons before winning 94 games last year and reaching the National League Division Series.
McCutchen hit .317 with 21 home runs, 84 RBIs and 27 steals while scoring 94 runs to earn 28 of 30 first-place votes in the MVP balloting. He was the first Pirate to win the award since Barry Bonds in 1992.
“He is the most dynamic player, or at least among the top three, in baseball,” Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last year. “His speed is unbelievable. He hits for a high average, gets on base all the time, scores runs and his defense is second to none. He’s the leader of that team.”
McCutchen doesn’t appear to be sitting on his laurels. He and infielders Clint Barmes and Jordy Mercer were the only everyday position players to attend the Jan. 6 workout. McCutchen plans on sticking to his offseason routine of working out at IMG Academy.
“It’s good to show up and show my face,” McCutchen said of the camp, “It works for me because I live an hour and a half away, so it’s not too bad a trip. ... I wanted to see everybody, and it’s good to show up.”
Taken with the 11th overall pick during the 2005 draft, McCutchen won’t turn 28 until October, but he is quickly becoming the Pirates’ leader.
He held court at his locker with a bunch of minor-leaguers following the workout. Pittsburgh’s dream outfield of McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco would feature McCutchen as its elder statesman.
Marte swiped 41 bases and hit .280 last year, his first full season in the majors. Polanco, who began last year with the high Single-A Bradenton Marauders and finished it by appearing in two games with Triple-A Indianapolis, is one of the Pirates’ top prospects.
“It’s going to be a pretty fast outfield, and me being the oldest doesn’t feel right. But that’s the way it goes,” he said with a smile. “Normally, I was always the young guy on the team. ... But eventually, all that turns. Evolution, maybe. I don’t know. That’s going to be a little weird, I guess, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
A watershed season preceded a busy winter that included McCutchen proposing to his girlfriend, Maria Hanslovan, on “Ellen.” McCutchen said he is focused on 2014.
Last year was fun. But it’s time to look forward, he said.
“It’s slowed down a little bit,” McCutchen said. “Get myself and body ready to go, show up for spring training and get ready to go.”