Dapper Dan: Sportsman of the Year Clint Hurdle revitalized Pirates

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In about a week and a half, Clint Hurdle's Pirates will report to spring training. They'll have a record of 0-0 when they start working to equal their 2013 performance and keep up with their division rivals, including the St. Louis Cardinals, who reached the World Series last season.

For one more night, the Pirates manager will celebrate the past. He will be honored Thursday as the Sportsman of the Year at the 78th Dapper Dan banquet at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

"It's truly amazing that this winter is taking place," Hurdle, who was also named the National League manager of the year, said in December when the award was announced. "To be that person that won it, that's not something I had going in."

Hurdle will be the second consecutive Pirate to win the award. Andrew McCutchen, this season's National League MVP, was last year's Sportsman of the Year.

"I remember my first Dapper Dan, in 2011," Hurdle said. "I've been to every one since then, honoring Andrew and honoring [Pitt basketball coach] Jamie Dixon. It has magnitude, obviously, within the area in which we live, but the players put you there."

The players put themselves in the postseason for the first time since 1992 with a 94-68 record that earned them a spot in the wild-card playoff game. After defeating the Cincinnati Reds, they lost to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series in five games.

Throughout the season, Hurdle continued his three-year quest to reconnect the fans in Pittsburgh with the Pirates, whose continued subpar performance the past two decades turned many away. He often told reporters of his interactions with fans out and about, in Starbucks and the grocery store, and how the tone of those interactions changed as the team improved.

Fans noticed, not just due to Hurdle's personality -- boisterous, quick with a smile and a story -- but the team's performance. Hurdle removed pitch counts from consideration when deciding when to pull his starters, the idea being to allow them to pitch to the situation rather than worry about staying in the game. Pirates starters had a 3.50 ERA that ranked fifth in the majors. He changed the way he used his bullpen to allow for more rest and recovery, and the bullpen posted a 2.89 ERA, third in the majors.

When Hurdle took the stage at PirateFest with general manager Neal Huntington and president Frank Coonelly for a question-and-answer session, the trio received cheers. The first fan to ask a question began with "Thank you for bringing a winning team back to us."

"I do think it's a part of the game that needs to be honored," Hurdle said of the award. "I do think it's a part of the game that needs to be recognized. We need to be thankful and appreciative and understand that they're team accomplishments. As with anything else, there's a time to move on from that."

That time will come soon, when Hurdle and his staff begin implementing their plans for 2014. That will include dealing with the Cardinals, who have one of the best starters in the game in Adam Wainwright and a young set of pitchers, including Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, who are only getting better. Despite losing Carlos Beltran, Matt Adams will get more playing time, top prospect Oscar Taveras is on his way and the addition of shortstop Jhonny Peralta plugged the only true hole in a tough lineup.

The Reds lost Shin-Soo Choo, but they're not going anywhere. The division will be just as tough, if not tougher, as last season. For now, Hurdle can celebrate with the city once more.

"I think this is one of the ways you get recognized within our industry," Hurdle said. "These are recognitions that are out of our control."

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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