Inside the Pirates: Captains on the boat?
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The question comes up often with the Pirates, especially when things are going poorly:
Who leads this clubhouse?
A survey of several of the team's most experienced players in the past week confirmed this much definitively: There is no one person. Nobody stands out as having the championship experience of Derek Jeter, the vocal cords of Joey Porter or the glare of Mark Messier.
Most of the Pirates' players have pointed to Jason Bay over the past two seasons, but all agreed the leader is not a singular entity.
"It comes from a bunch of different places, but I think we've got the dynamic covered from a few different angles," Bay said. "Myself, I'm more of a lead-by-example type. And we've got a few of those, guys who go out there a little dinged up but play every day. And we've got a couple other guys who maybe are a little more vocal."
And who are the vocal ones?
Nearly everyone cited reliever Shawn Chacon and right fielder Xavier Nady.
"No question," Bay said. "We don't have guys who have been in the bigs for 10 years, but those guys have been around enough. And they speak their minds."
It is not limited there, either, according to those two.
"There isn't any one guy who, when somebody messes up, is going to say, 'Hey, listen up!' " Chacon said. "It will be a small group of us that maybe we'll get together and say to the player, 'What's going on? What were you thinking there?' What's the most important thing is that, when somebody makes a mistake, everybody doesn't just turn their back and say, 'Whatever.' We have our ways of dealing with things."
Among the others involved in some of those discussions are Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche and Salomon Torres.
Is it enough?
As few would dispute, these Pirates often perform fundamentally like a team in need of additional accountability.
"Yeah, I think it could be addressed even more than it is," Nady said. "But I also think that everyone in here is a grown man and shouldn't have to be told some things. When I was new, I remember how it felt when I messed up. You feel it deep inside, and you don't always need to hear it from someone else. But I think the way we play the game -- the way he have to play the game -- is to do things right. And everyone should know that."
The other thing all agreed upon: Whoever speaks needs to back it up.
As Wilson put it, "No one's going to listen to you if you're hitting .230."
"Leadership can come in a lot of different ways," manager Jim Tracy said. "If there is any player who takes that role of speaking in the clubhouse, more often than not, they're the type who shows it between the lines. They're exemplary models."
He did not name names.
"We've got some of those."
The pitching billboard
Masumi Kuwata has given the Pirates more than good innings: He also has given them a good name in his homeland.
Kuwata quickly has become the No. 2 focal point of baseball fans in Japan, according to Kenji Takamiya of the Nikkan Sports News, trailing only Daisuke Matsuzaka. His stories are on the front page. The team's games are aired live on television. Not even Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui are getting comparable media play, Takamiya said.
And there could be, Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said, a long-term payoff.
"It certainly could help us in getting more talent from there, which is something we've been working toward for a while," he said. "Obviously, our goal in getting Kuwata was to get a good pitcher. But, sure, Pittsburgh is a little more on the map there now with the success he's had so far, and that could help us as we continue to branch out."
Littlefield said the Pirates will send three scouts to Japan for part of the next baseball season there.
One part of the world where the Pirates already dominate, apparently, is Alaska.
Chacon and new first baseman Josh Phelps, represent two-thirds of all active players from the 49th state in the union. The other: Curt Schilling.
In all, there have been nine Alaskan natives reach the majors.
Who plays baseball up there?
Well, not even these guys could say. Chacon's family moved to Colorado when he was an infant, and Phelps' folks did likewise to Indiana.
"I know nothing about it," Chacon said.
"My dad's been back a few times," Phelps said. "I hear it's nice."
From a nationality standpoint, of the 25 players on the active roster, 18 are Americans, three are from the Dominican Republic, two are from Venezuela, and there is one each from Canada and Japan.
Ward vs. the wall
There have been few moments in the Pirates' past 14 1/2 seasons worth remembering, much less commemorating: The Francisco Cordova/Ricardo Rincon no-hitter. Brian Giles' grand slam off Billy Wagner. Rob Mackowiak's double-tribute to his newborn son.
And one other that has just received its due ...
Turner Ward's crash through Three Rivers Stadium's outfield wall to catch a fly ball May 3, 1998, was the subject of a bobblehead figure passed out by the Pirates' short-season Class A affiliate, the State College Spikes, last weekend. There were 2,000 distributed, and they are going on eBay for about $10.
Ward, 42, is the Spikes' manager.
Good luck to any prospect who dogs it on his watch.Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press
Click photo for larger image.
The Hochi Shimbun covered Masumi Kuwata Wednesday with a little help from Tuesday's Post-Gazette.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published June 30, 2007 9:29 pm