The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

April 1, 2014

Pirates reflect on their past on Opening Day

PITTSBURGH — OK, it wasn’t the national holiday Ozzie Smith and the Budweiser people wanted to make Opening Day, but at PNC Park they were celebrating as if it was the Fourth of July, complete with an American flag being parachuted into the park, Christmas and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day.

It was a time for Barry Bonds to come home, a time for Clint Hurdle and his dad, Clinton, and a time for Neil Walker, the Pittsburgh Kid, who sent the biggest crowd ever to see a regular season game in PNC Park history — 39,822 — home happy with a walkoff, 10th inning homer to give the Pirates a 1-0 victory.

It all started a few weeks back when the Pirates approached Hurdle and asked him if he thought it would be wise to bring Bonds back to help present Andrew McCutchen with his MVP award.

Bonds is not the most popular character in Pittsburgh, having first walked out on the team via free agency after helping them to three playoff spots in which he bombed in each, the last one failing to throw out Sid Bream at home plate.

Then the steroid scandal deepened the feelings, even as he rewrote the record book, the marks forever tainted by the suspicion he used steroids.

But Hurdle did not have to think long about asking Bonds back.

“I’m a big believer in honoring tradition,” Hurdle said, “and honoring the present in the best fashion we can. I believe we should acknowledge who we are and what we are and what we used to be and where we’re going.”

They approached McCutchen, too, for it was really to be his day, and while he said he didn’t know Bonds well, he thought it appropriate.

And so it was that Bonds came back to where he began his career, the best part of it being, he said, driving through Coraopolis and going by the LeGrand Apartments, where he lived when he came up.

“It almost brought tears to my eyes,” he admitted.

These were the last wonderful baseball days in Pittsburgh until Hurdle and Co. resurrected the Pirates. The Bonds’ Pirates had Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke and Jay Bell and Mike LaValliere and Doug Drabek and John Smiley and Chico Lind.

What they didn’t have was the formula to beat the Atlanta Braves.

“We had good teams. We tried to win a championship for this city but unfortunately we came up short,” Bonds said.

Just as the Pirates did a year ago when they broke their streak of two decades of losing baseball since Bonds exited and for leading them out of the darkness, Hurdle was presented with his Manager of the Year award by no less a man that Jim Leyland, who had managed the Bonds’ Pirates.

“It’s an individual honor and I don’t have very many of them,” Hurdle said. “But this one is special because my Dad will be here today. I will ship it to him eventually.”

This one, Hurdle said, was for his father.

“Fifty-one years ago my Dad grabbed my hand and said, ‘Let’s go play catch.’ He’s been through the good, the bad and the ugly. He’s always been there for me,” Hurdle said, adding an afterthought.

“He ought to get the award. He’s had to manage me … and that’s quite a task,” Hurdle said.

But make no doubt, Clinton Hurdle enjoyed this one.

“He might still be laying out there,” Hurdle said, pointing toward the stands. “He’s normally one of the last to leave. He’ll probably help sweep the stadium out. Him and Mr. Walker both had a pretty good time today.”

By “Mr. Walker” he could have been referring to Neil, but instead he was referring to his dad, Tom, a former major league player from 1972 to 1977.

However, no one could know the feeling Neil Walker had, putting an end to this opener.

“This is a special day,” he said. “The team and this organization have come a long way. The last 20 years have been tough, so to get where we are now ...”

He didn’t finish. He didn’t have to.

“It’s just very, very special. Growing up here, I have a little better understanding of it and the tradition of this organization,” he said. “This kind of felt like a rollover from last year.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • WVU, N.C. State to meet in football

    Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
    The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.

    July 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Cheating pays’ remark should draw attention

    When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.

    July 24, 2014

  • Holgorsen’s program hits turning point

    You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time(1).jpg Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success

     In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
    Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
    Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
    When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Saban, family happy at Alabama

    Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.

    July 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

    Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

    July 18, 2014

  • WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’

    West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
    He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

    July 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Smallwood puts future in jeopardy

    The last thing West Virginia’s struggling football program needed as twilight was setting on Bastille Day in Morgantown was to have one of its own whisked off to the North Central Regional Jail on a fugitive warrant from another state, especially a player who had figured to play a key role in the resurrection of a program gone bad.

    July 16, 2014

  • WVU player arrested in Delaware case

    West Virginia University running back Wendell Smallwood has been arrested by university police and is being held at North Central Regional Jail awaiting extradition on a felony warrant out of Delaware.

    July 15, 2014

  • WVU hoping to add two non-conference contests

    West Virginia is nearing the completion of deals to play football games against long-time rival Virginia Tech, now in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Tennessee of the Southeastern Conference, according to a source close to the negotiations.
    An announcement is expected shortly.

    July 15, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads