BRADENTON, Fla. (KDKA) — Spring Training is wrapping up in Bradenton, Florida, and with the Home Opener now in sight, it’s crunch time for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The disappointment of last year has been cast away, and it’s time for new beginnings.
“Not only is baseball a great sport, but the weather gets good,” said Pirates relief pitcher Jared Hughes.
A new page is being written, but before the pop of a glove or the crack of a bat return to PNC Park, there are futures to resolve.
Young players are making strong pitches to be introduced on the foul line on Opening Day.
At first base alone, the Pirates have four viable possibilities – Josh Bell, David Freese, John Jaso and the surprise of Jose Osuna.
“I’m not sure we expected him to hit .440 and with power, and show plate discipline the way he has,” said Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington.
“Whoever’s out there, we’re giving it our all; but when it comes to us in the clubhouse, we’re all guys, we all sit right next to each other in the lunchroom. It’s not me vs. you, it’s us vs. them,” said Bell.
The Pirates versus whoever is in that other dugout with the desire to win every pitch, every inning, into mid-October.
“Everybody’s coming in and doing their job,” said Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. “I definitely think we have a team that can do some damage, so I’m just looking forward to this year.”
And they are ready to start playing games that count.
“Baseball is one of those things, whether you win or lose, you just keep moving it forward and you forget about what happened yesterday, no matter what,” said first baseman John Jaso.
But the Pirates will be moving forward without one of their players for now.
Jung Ho Kang’s locker sits ready for a player who may never make it to Spring Training.
“The unfortunate reality is this young man has put himself in a position where his ability to get into the country is out of his hands and out of our hands,” said Huntington.
His teammates miss him.
“He’s a good dude,” said Jaso. “Everybody here has a great relationship with the guy, he’s part of our team and it does feel like a bit of hole there with him gone.”
“I know it’s gotta be tough on him, and it makes us take a step back and realize there are things bigger in life than just baseball,” said Pirates infielder Josh Harrison.
Andrew McCutchen says he has tried to reach out to Kang.
“Taken from just a human being standpoint, you want to make sure he’s all right,” McCutchen said. “It’s kind of tough to talk to him being all the way in Korea. I just hope for the best for him.”
Meanwhile, on the field, the Pirates are considering their options and trying several players in several places.
“So that’s kind of exciting. I think guys enjoy kind of bouncing around,” said Freese.
But the team is certainly not giving up on Kang.
“We’re working through the process, we’re going to remain optimistic,” said Huntington. “He’s going to continue to work hard, but right now, it’s out of our hands.”