For the final home game of the 2011 season, each Pirates player taped a message that played between innings on the video screen in the outfield. They thanked the fans and informed the lucky ones sitting in certain seats that they were welcome on the field after the game.
Late in the game, manager Clint Hurdle's message of thanks began, and the crowd rose to its feet to return the gesture.
"That completely ambushed me," Hurdle said later. "As I told my folks, if there was any part of me that wasn't in after that seventh inning, it was all in. How can you not live where you work when the fans at least show that kind of appreciation?"
That is exactly what Hurdle, who has a contract through 2013 with an option for 2014, did. He bought a house in Hampton.
"I feel strongly about that," he said of living where he manages. "If you're going to tell people you're all in, you need to be all in."
It's no shock the fans appreciated Hurdle. He increased the Pirates' win total by 15 in his first season, and his gregarious personality and sense of humor contrasted sharply with former manager John Russell. He has not lost the smile that a Sports Illustrated cover made famous 33 years ago. He commands both ends of the spectrum, alternatively telling amusing stories from his playing days and benching players for a lack of hustle or focus, acknowledging the strides his team made while candidly addressing its weaknesses.
Hurdle said he enjoyed himself during a season full of injuries, which he referred to after the final game as both "a blast" and akin to an amusement-park ride.
"I got a much better feel for our organization," he said. "I've got growth to do. I've got areas that I've got to improve in as well."
Hurdle led the Pirates to a 72-90 record in his first season and had them in contention, despite numerous injuries to key players, into mid-July. They faded in the second half of the season and finished in fourth place in the National League Central Division.
Living where you manage, Hurdle said, plays well while recruiting potential free agents. How can he sell players on Pittsburgh, he said, if he lives in Colorado?
"I'm going to live there. We're making a home there. We're committing," he said. "That way you spend the winter there. You say hello to people. You're at the supermarket. You're a blue-collar guy. You're hanging out with your family and you're growing them up in Pennsylvania. We'll have the [Troy] Polamalu jersey on. We'll have the [Sidney] Crosby jersey on."
Hurdle may wear the recruiting hat often this winter. The Pirates are not expected to exercise club options on starting pitcher Paul Maholm or catcher Ryan Doumit, giving them more freedom to spend money over the offseason. Arbitration-eligible players, especially closer Joel Hanrahan, will divert some of that money and expand the payroll, but, with question marks in the rotation, as well as at first base, catcher and potentially shortstop, the Pirates will look at free agents.
Hurdle will have a hefty travel schedule between the instructional league, the Arizona Fall League, the winter meetings and minicamp, so he will not spend the entire winter here. He said, however, that taking the step was important to doing his job effectively.
"I believe in a position of leadership, that's how you lead," he said. "That's one of the greatest steps that you can take to lead. That's just my personal conviction."
As for the reception his video received, Hurdle felt that might help him join the local culture:
"I felt like that was a big step forward to becoming a yinzer."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG.