Pirates' Hurdle inspired Overbay
Sunday, January 16, 2011

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Why Pittsburgh?

That was the question posed to first baseman Lyle Overbay who, if things play out in accordance with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington's best laid plans, will be the club's every day guy at that corner position this season.

So, again -- why Pittsburgh for the 33-year-old Overbay, who was a free agent this past offseason and inked a one-year, $5 million deal in December?

The answer, as Overbay told the story in the Pirate City clubhouse last week during minicamp, began and ended with new Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

"I've got three boys," Overbay said of his sons who are 7, 6 and 2. "And Clint Hurdle is a man who is, in a sense, raising boys here in this clubhouse. He is an inspirational person and I'd like to coach someday and that is the kind of man I want to surround myself with."

Overbay made his major league debut in 2001, spent his first three big league seasons with Arizona, then was with Milwaukee for two seasons and shifted to Toronto for the past five. He was granted free agency in November following a season in which he hit 20 home runs, the most he had hit since 2006 and the second-most in his career.

He had a few other suitors -- he didn't want to get into specifics -- but when Huntington showed interest, even with the Pirates coming off a 105-loss season, Overbay knew the fit was right.

"When you are waffling on playing [designated hitter] and doing this and that, I didn't really know about those situations with other teams," Overbay said. "But with the Pirates, from the first time they started talking to me, they were wanting to get it done."

Although the minicamp at Pirate City last week was just a small sample size, Overbay echoed what many of the Pirates have said and what is becoming a theme around this bunch: This is a major league club where there is absolutely no doubt which person is in charge.

"I want to know where I am and be part of the solution and help," Overbay said. "One of the questions Clint asked me, and he asked everyone was, 'Do you trust me?'

"You have to trust him because he's honest. He tells you where you stand with him. I'm a grown man and if he says something that I might not like, he's not out there to hurt me, he's out there to make me better. I understand that and that's a big part of what is going to be the atmosphere around here -- you have to trust Clint."

Hurdle is a guy who has an unyielding trust that a player such as Overbay can provide some leadership, both on the lineup card and in the clubhouse, among a group of younger players.

"You look at the back of his ball card and he's a guy who has played a number of games, a great volume of games and he said to me, 'I didn't realize I was veteran player,' but he is," Hurdle said.

"He is a professional hitter, he is a guy you can count on and his ability to defend, his lateral range right and left, is going to make us better in the infield."

The acquisition of Overbay doesn't end at first base.

It seemingly would have a trickle-down strengthening impact as the design is for Garrett Jones -- who was used at first much of last season -- to move to right field full time with off-season pickup Matt Diaz spelling Jones out there.

Sure, there could be some who say the excitement over an offseason signing such as Overbay should be tempered a bit.

After all, there were bigger names out there, and the Pirates failed to deliver on a player such first baseman Derrek Lee, the much-sought-after, right-handed power bat they so desperately could have used. Lee ended up signing with the Baltimore Orioles.

How does Hurdle view things in terms of which players the Pirates are going to acquire, especially among the higher-salaried guys?

"At this point in time, people need to realize something," he said. "We need to identify players who are out there, but who also want to come here, and then we have to go recruit those guys.

"There are a lot of people who say, 'Well, you should have gone out and tried to get this guy or that guy.' Well, you know what, maybe that guy never even wanted to come to Pittsburgh. And it is not about another million dollars or another 3 million dollars, there are some guys who are never coming to Pittsburgh. That's the reality of where we are right now. And the reality is we aren't going to get them until we start winning."

And the reality of where Overbay is right now is he thinks there is a groundwork arranged with the Pirates, especially because of Hurdle, to dig out of the decades-long rut.

"Things are changing here and I want to be part of something special," Overbay said.

"I was with Milwaukee when we lost just as much and my second year there [in 2005], we turned it around. It was like we had won the World Series [finishing 81-81]. That same kind of stepping stone can be done here, things are changing, confidence is here, people here are not accepting losing. It doesn't take long around these guys to realize it."

Colin Dunlap:
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First published on January 16, 2011 at 12:00 am