Hurdle knows what buttons to push

by on October 9, 2013

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* Pirates manager Clint Hurdle can motivate whether talking to the University of Wyoming Cowboys football team on the eve of a big game or his club — which includes C Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) and 1B Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) — heading into the deciding game of the best-of-five National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals. ….

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By Bob Elliott

St. LOUIS _ For the previous decade I’ve been part of a group that heads to Laramie, Wyoming each November.

Four of us — Bob Dutton of Kansas City, Phil Rogers of Chicago, our gracious host, tour director and Wyoming native son Tracy Ringolsby and myself — went to University of Wyoming Cowboys football/hoops game weekend in 2003.

Our travelling party next month will be in excess of 35 when we board the bus for Wyo-Mania XI.

There are zero deadlines to worry about, no one thinks “what am I writing for second edition?”

The best description of the trip we’ve ever heard is “a hunting trip without guns.”

 

 

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Besides scribes, our group gradually expanded via word of mouth and word of mouth from a guy in a hat to scouts, scouting directors, baseball execs and illustrious guests: president Stan Kasten, after leaving the Washington Nationals, former managers Jim Fregosi, Art Howe and Clint Hurdle.

In 2008, on the eve of the 100th meeting of the Border War, between the Colorado State Rams and our beloved Cowpokes, the bus, with Hurdle, then manager of the Colorado Rockies aboard, stopped at one of those bubbles.

We stood on the sidelines as the football team went though its final practice.

When coach Joe Glenn’s team finished its walk through, all 70 players walked the sidelines shaking everyone’s hand.

“Kick some butt tomorrow,” one of us told a player.

“Knock some helmets off,” said another of our group to another player.

“Shear the sheep,” ordered Ringolsby.

“Get your rest,” Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, told a deep back.

“GET YOUR REST! GET YOUR REST?” boomed Hurdle, as panels of the bubble above quivered.

 

“Our men are going into battle tomorrow and you tell them to get their rest? Why didn’t you tell them not to forget to floss?”

The deep back’s eyes widened — as if he was ready to run through a wall, but CSU scored a 31-20 win over the Cowboys.

 

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Hurdle’s men, the Pittsburgh Pirates, go into the deciding game of the best-of-five National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium Wednesday night.

They don’t need rest or motivation.

They need some hits off Cards 19-game winner Adam Wainwright.

“When (Hurdle) gets done managing he has a second career waiting as a motivational speaker,” said catcher John Buck. “How many times have you heard a manager say ‘let’s to do little things right,’ hitting the ball to the right side, moving a guy over?

“With Clint there aren’t any little things. He says that they are all big things. He’s mentioned a lot of things since I’ve been here, but that’s one that has stuck with me the most.”

Each day Hurdle fires off an inspirational story or motivational quote to over 1,000 people. Sending daily e-mails began during his 15 years with the Colorado Rockies to players and staff.

Like this one:

“Leadership is a word and a concept that has been more argued than almost any other I know. I am not one of the desk-pounding types that likes to stick out his jaw and look like he is bossing the show. I would far rather get behind and, recognizing the frailties and the requirements of human nature, would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.” _ President Dwight David Eisenhower.

After managing the Rockies into 2007 World Series, he was let go 46 games into 2009 and was hired Nov. 15, 2010 by the Pirates.

Pittsburgh was coming off a 105 losses. They went from 57 wins to 72 in Hurdle’s first year, 79 last year as the Bucs faltered late and 94 wins this season, their first winning season since 1992.

“He speaks the same language as Ron Gardenhire,” said Justin Morneau, of his former Minnesota Twins manager. “He’ll come up and say ‘I’ll going to give you a blow tomorrow.’ I know I’m getting the day off. Gardenhire used to say it.”

A recent e-mail entitled “Seize or create opportunity” contained these nuggets: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle and “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“To use one of Clint’s terms we like to “speak greatness,’ when talking about our players,” said general manager Neal Huntington. “Mind you he’s willing to have a tough conversation with someone when necessary.”

A missive with the header Four Things You Don’t Want to Forget: 1. What got you here, 2. Where you are going, 3. Who helped you along the way and 4. Who you are trying to help.

When the Rockies went on their run in 2007 — 11 straight in September and 21 of 22 to get to the Series, Hurdle was credited with motivating the younger players. He’s done the same with his Pirates.

Before Jeff Francis made his major-league debut with Colorado, Hurdle called him in and said, “Respect everything, but be in awe of nothing.”

“It was a good thing for a kid to hear before starting a career when everything is so big and unusual,” recalled Francis from London, Ont.

Messages aren’t always from Ted Williams and Yogi Berra, they might be from the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Anthony Robbins or Margaret Thatcher.

When A.J. Burnett failed to retire one of eight Cardinals hitters he faced in Game 1, Hurdle was asked why he went so long with his starter.

“We felt we could get the groundball double play, get some balance and keep the game right there where it was, three feet to the left we get it, but the ball is by us and the three more runs score after that,” said Hurdle in a Bobby Cox-like answer. “Please, put it all on me. That was my decision, so as I’ve told you as to the fault at our club, when we win, give the players all the credit; when we lose, give the manager all the blame.”

A good friend of Blue Jays manager John Gibbons from their Mets days, Hall of Famer George Brett from their days together as two young bucks with the Kansas City Royals. Matter of fact, almost everyone he ever played with in his 10 year career is a pal. He has a rooting section in the industry.

Maybe it’s the way his e-mails end:

“Make a difference today. Love, Clint.”

Bob Elliott
Bob Elliott is a baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun, Sun Media and a frequent guest on The FAN-590. He was born in Kingston, Ont. If you want to know anything and everything to do with the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues or amateur baseball in Canada - Bob is the man to talk to.

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