Colin Dunlap: Polanco Grinding Through Growing Pains
Even those projected to be the best pros need to learn how to be pros.
Such is life with Gregory Polanco.
He’s a superstar of the future here in Pittsburgh.
He runs like a gazelle, has an arm like a cannon, swings that bat effortlessly and just has a general sense of a luminary that surrounds him.
He’s also going through a slump. And don’t forget — he’s also just 22.
While the only thing bigger than Polanco’s debut on June 10 against the Cubs might have been the anticipation of his arrival in Pittsburgh, it would appear that the feet of the right fielder have finally found the Earth to some degree.
He went hitless in 11 consecutive at-bats into Monday night’s game.
Polanco saw an average that was .306 on July 2 dive down to .246 as the Dodgers made their way into town on Monday night for the start of a three-game series.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave Polanco — with the Pirates 1.5 games back of the National League Central Division leading Cardinals — a much-needed rest on Monday night; a chance for the young talent to take a deep breath and recharge.
After all, no one said this learning to be a major leaguer stuff was going to be easy — even if you are a can’t-miss guy.
There is the grind of everything that happens after 7:05 p.m. that the masses see. The swings, throws, catches, positioning and the obvious portions of the game easily viewed by so many.
But the minutia of jumping to the Majors at 22 can be the most taxing. Right down to travelling time zone to time zone and being given the responsibility to live up to such expectations that Polanco, certainly, is.
“As far as the travel, I think he’s figuring that out,” Hurdle said. “It’s much nicer than Triple-A but it’s still challenging from a time consuming aspect.”
And then there is that throng of gentlemen in jeans and Tommy Bahama shirts who make their way into the clubhouse a bit past 3 p.m. each day — yeah, the stinkin’ media.
“The media is something that he can’t control, which is overwhelming at times,” Hurdle said. “It’s more than he ever anticipated ever having to deal with. We’re trying to teach him how to say ‘no’ … he doesn’t have to meet the demands of every media person.”
Polanco has also become a recognizable figure to fans — and not just in Pittsburgh. Again, such a public lifestyle (thrust onto a 22 year old) can take a heavy adjustment. Hurdle saw the entity Polanco has become on a trip to St. Louis just before the All-Star Break.
“He’s walking across the street,” Hurdle recalled of Polanco. “He didn’t have like three or four other players with him. It turned into a beehive. I watched him go about it for a little while … then more people. And more people. And more people. Then finally I just walked over and got him around the arm and said, ‘Come on with me’ and, of course, you get a big [negative] kick back from the fans.”
It was that instant Hurdle — who needed to rescue his young superstar from the masses — realized just how much Polanco has emerged from a ballplayer to, in some ways, an object.
“I’m the bad guy here,” Hurdle said, recalling that street corner in St. Louis. “But he doesn’t have a responsibility to sign every autograph that he’s asked to sign every night, so I’m going to take him away and get him across the street.
“There’s a lot of newness. He’s figuring it out.”
Polanco is figuring this “being a Major Leaguer” thing out every night as his career continues to push forward. Perhaps sometimes we forget he’s just 22 — and has been here for only a bit more than a month.