Pittsburgh Pirates Coaching Changes Can Impact 2013

Pittsburgh Pirates Clint Hurdle and Jeff Banister–step brothers.

Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training is coming quickly.   Yeh, we capitalize Spring Training–you probably should too.  One of the things we are looking forward to–well, after we find a hotel room–is seeing how the coaching staff prepares the team for the pivotal 2013 season.

Rick Sofield will be on board.  The former first rounder, the 13th overall pick in 1975, is well thought of by players in the minor league system.  We also think it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Sofield was the skipper for the 2012 West Virginia.  Some serious talent had breakout years last season with the Power.  Buccos second baseman Neil Walker spoke highly of the new first base coach to me privately and also in the press.

Guess what Sofield will use at first base?  Sofield will carry a stopwatch.  (That means you won’t have to hear anymore Davey Lopes whining from me this season)

“Sofield’s going to come with the knowledge of a lot of the pitchers in the league and the knowledge of baserunning,” Walker said. “That’s an area where we have to do better.

“He keeps a stop watch down there and he’s telling you what the times are from the pitcher and that’s important when you are trying to steal bases and get leads. There’s a lot of things that go into being a first base coach. It’s certainly not just standing there and giving a pat on the butt.”

Now if he can improve the outfielder’s defense–i.e. Andrew McCutchen and improve the Pirates horrific baserunning–ahem, Garrett Jones, the Bucs might be on to something.

Let’s just say this, Sofield looks the part.

So does Jay Bell, the Bucs new hitting coach.

As we wrote when he was hired, Bell’s experience doesn’t blow us away.  And while we don’t think there is much that can be done about all those Pirates strikeouts, one thing does stand out for us.   When we spoke recently with Neal Huntington, the Bucs GM told us that Bell focuses on the mental side of the game.

So think of it this way….Jay Bell isn’t a coach that is going to break down swings and focus on hands, load, or timing.  (Which we took to mean that should El Toro hit a skid, there won’t be a toe tap being introduced into his swing.)  But if you read JAL’s recent post on the Pirates 2012 collapse, you understand that the mental side of the game might have been a big reason for the Bucs vanishing act in 2012.

While watching the impact that Sofield and Bell have on the team is exciting for us to think about, we still feel the bench coach carries a ton of weight in this clubhouse.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you will know that we pressed hard for Jeff Banister to be hired as the Pirates skipper.  We settled for the life-the-party-Clint Hurdle, but the business-like Banister was our pick.   In 1986, Banister was a Bucs 25th round pick back in and signed his deal at a Wendy’s has always been someone we admired.

You might remember this story, if you do, feel free to jump over to your second favorite blog now, we don’t want to bore you with a story you’ve already heard.

If you have ever been to PirateFest, it’s a really good time.  A few years ago, we were standing at PirateFest talking to a couple friends backstage.  We had accomplished what had never been done before, the Pittsburgh Pirates held interviews with some of the best Pirates writers on the planet.  Bloggers.

We felt great about what had been put together. Finally the Pittsburgh Pirates were talking to talented people from the best Pirates sites. People like Kristy, Matt Bandi, Charlie and Vlad from Bucs Dugout, and all of the Pirates Prospects crew. Each one of these people are very detailed and passionate about providing baseball fans with stories that are more detailed than you will ever find in a newspaper. (Of course, RumBunter isn’t real big on details so we exclude our site from that last sentence.)

It was a cool moment and I happened to look up because if you have ever had the feeling someone was staring at you, that’s the feeling I had.

And guess what? A street clothed Jeff Banister was giving me the eye.  The guy looks like he was getting ready to weigh-in for an MMA title fight.

My heart dropped a little bit as we had a lot of fun with Banister that winter. We consistently expressed our desire that Banister would have been a good selection as the Pirates new manager. But, like usual, we also had a weird way of saying it.

As the man who has been employed by the Bucs his entire life walked toward me, my mind raced because we also had a little over-the-top fun with some photoshops at Banister’s expense.

Personally, I have spent most of my career with one company. There is something to be said about a person that is loyal. But maybe Banister was going to be a little pissed off about the fun we had.

The first thing we realized as the 6’2″ Banister walked toward us was…damn he takes care of himself.

Our next thought was his stare is pretty intense which made me think of protecting myself. I didn’t have any weapons other than a tape recorder, a Blackberry, and a pen that was out of ink. My right knee had just been surgically repaired so there was no way I could pull off a hit and run. We thought, damn this doesn’t look like a man who had seven knee and ankle operations during high school, and snapped his neck as a college catcher making him temporarily paralyzed after a collision.

I did have this makeshift crutch, so that might work, huh?

It must have been the four pills we popped to withstand the pain that sent us into a panic.  Banister put out his hand and as we shook, he smiled and said something that describes what type of man Jeff Banister is.

“That Step Brothers photoshop was hilarious.”

I let out a big sigh of relief as I laughed and moved away from the curtain that separated the mainstage from the back area.  The Buccos bench coach could have whipped my ass and nobody would have been the wiser.   It was the last thing in his mind.

A great story was written about Banister a few years ago.  It has a few interesting parts, but our favorite one about discusses the moments right before his first, and only at-bat as a major leaguer.

But there he was, a few hours later, in the Pirates’ locker room at Three Rivers Stadium, with a stall between Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke. He helped out in the bullpen until the eighth inning, when Manager Jim Leyland called him to hit for starter Doug Drabek. Teammates had hidden Banister’s bat and helmet, so he grabbed replacements and walked into his dream.

So after Banister got a hit in his only at-bat, we bet that he walked into the clubhouse and shook the hand of the practical joker too.

Banister is our kind of guy. Our kind of Lifer.  We hope he gets his wish to celebrate in the middle of the field one day soon.

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Topics: Pittsburgh Pirates

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