Our family watched the Tampa Bay Rays open spring training last February 23rd against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Port Charlotte. It was oldest daughter Sarah’s 25th birthday, and for us, there isn’t a much better way to celebrate than have family together around either the Rays or the Florida State Seminoles. The Rays lost that 3-2 that day with a split squad, but not to worry. It was spring training, a time to look forward with a smile on your face. Heck, even the Cubs are championship contenders at that time of year.
I wore a Pirates cap and Rays shirt – I don’t do jerseys – to the park. Normally, my allegiance is singularly focused. On this day, however, my loyalty was divided between the Tampa Bay, the team I follow, and Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, I guy I’ve known for years, and followed for much longer. Before the game, I was able to speak with Clint in the dugout. The talk was about our families far more than about baseball. After the game, he was gracious enough to meet with all my girls, wife Kathryn, and daughters Sarah and Hannah. The perfect ending to a family day at the ball yard. (Of course, we’d all love to meet Joe Maddon, as well!)
Clint is from my home county of Brevard, which is Florida’s Space Coast. He was a football and baseball star at Merritt Island High School, and was headed to the University of Miami to play quarterback before the Kansas City Royals signed him. Before long, he was a cover boy for Sports Illustrated. After his big league career, he took to managing in the minor leagues, spending six years in the Mets’ organization. In 2002, he took the reins of the Colorado Rockies. In 2007, his club made it to the World Series, before losing to Boston in four games.
After being fired by Colorado in May of the 2009 season, the Big Man hooked on with Texas as the major league hitting instructor in 2010. I knew he wouldn’t be out of the game long. He had something, maybe he had “it” as a manager. Players respected him, and played hard for him. And in 2011, he took on the seemingly thankless job of managing the perennial bottom-shelf Pirates. He felt it could be a good opportunity.
That’s not the only reason Clint signed on with the Pirates. The second reason was largely due to Pittsburgh’s medical community. You see, his second child, daughter Madison, was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Pittsburgh’s baseball team may have been bottom shelf, and afforded Hurdle the opportunity to only take then onward and upward. But the Steel City’s medical community is top shelf. And they could afford Clint and his family far more than any baseball club could.
So, why am I writing about a National League manager, even if he did lead the Pirates to the post-season, and earn N.L. Manager of the Year for 2013? Because the baseball field at his old high school, Merritt Island, is being named after him tomorrow night, and I plan to be there. I won’t be there just to celebrate the naming of the field, or a big league manager I consider a friend. I will be there to smile as a man I respect as a loving husband and father, a big guy who signs every email “Make a difference today. Love, Clint” is given his just do, probably many years too late. I am sure, however, that he won’t see it that way. He’ll smile, be gracious, take it in stride, and make everyone else feel like THEY are the center of attention.
I’m sure his family will be there, as well. You see, one thing about the Hurdle’s that isn’t so different from the Tysons is that family comes first. And it often finds itself most at home around a ball park. Congratulations, Clint. The best to you and yours. And many happy returns, my friend.