Byrd's drive, passion now Pirates' gain


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St. LOUIS -- In the blazing heat of a Mexican summer, Marlon Byrd never once let his mind wander.

It was just 14 months ago. Byrd was playing for Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League -- a refuge of sorts after he was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for testing positive for a banned substance.

He spoke only functional Spanish -- enough to order food, explain his destination to a cab driver.

Not once, he said on the eve of the National League Division Series, did he ever think, 'Will I ever get back?'

"Nope. No. That wasn't a question for me," Byrd said. "I had one thought process: to go down there, work and get better. No teams picked me up. It was either stay home or go down to Mexico and try and get better. Whatever else happens, happens."

What has happened? Just one of those little baseball stories that chugs along, then explodes into October like the brilliant autumn leaves.

Byrd has revived his career with the Pirates after arriving a little over a month ago with catcher John Buck in a trade at the deadline with the New York Mets. He's hitting .318 with 17 RBIs, nine doubles and a .357 on-base percentage.

His clutch numbers, batting in late and close situations, have been strong.

But the moment came Tuesday night.

After 1,250 games and 4,367 at-bats in the majors, he stepped to the plate for his first career postseason at-bat.

He launched a home run over the left-field wall and the crowd went wild.

"He doesn't have an ego. He has no fear and a lot of respect for everything that he does, and that is kind of the way our team is put together," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. " If you go over the rosters of all of the postseason teams right now, why don't you dig in to see how many men played ball in Mexico last winter at the age he played at?"

Byrd, Hurdle explained, wanted to improve his ability to hit breaking balls and not chase pitches out of the zone. He was 35.

"Where better to go than Mexico to face a league full of pitchers that spin the ball and really don't care about establishing fastball command?" Hurdle said.

Byrd said he has felt welcome since Day 1.

"Right when I walked in the first day, I saw how relaxed they were. Coming in here was easy," he said. "They welcomed me with open arms. I knew Clint for a long time. The big thing was coming over here with John Buck, sitting right next to him, locker mates, made it easy, too."

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen said Byrd was an instant fit.

"He embraced being here. He wanted to be here," McCutchen said. "We knew what he could bring to the table. I couldn't wait to play with him."

He also said Byrd has served as a kind of mentor to several players.

"He's been around the game for a while. If he has something, he's not afraid to share it. He comes out and shares all of the knowledge he has," McCutchen said. "He's kind of a coach almost. Brings that to us, brings that to the team."

Hurdle likes the addition.

"He's added in a lot of different areas: the stability in the middle of the lineup, the ability to produce runs, get big hits and he's a very good defender as well," Hurdle said. "But I do like the presence of the man, the edge that he brings."

Byrd is thrilled to have a home and said he hasn't stopped to consider how far his career has come in one year.

For now, he is thinking about St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright.

"At the end of the season, I'll collect my thoughts and think about what I've achieved this year," Byrd said. "Right now, my thought process is Wainwright."

pirates

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published October 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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