CHICAGO — September is a month where rosters expand across baseball, and with that expansion comes the potential for rookies to get their first taste of the big leagues. Most of those rookies play a minor role when they first come up, although some go on to play a bigger role and become fixtures on the active roster in future years.
The Pirates have plenty of guys who made their debuts in September, including their manager, Clint Hurdle, who made his pro debut in 1977 as a September callup with the Kansas City Royals. This weekend I talked with Hurdle, Jared Hughes, and recent callup Keon Broxton about the feeling they had when they first arrived in the majors (which is now for Broxton), and whether there was a specific point when they started feeling like they belonged in the majors (obviously, Broxton wasn’t involved in that part).
Here were the responses, separated by categories, with a few notes of mine mixed in.
What was it like when you first came up?
Clint Hurdle – “You’re kind of like that duck on the pond. You want to act cool, calm, and collected on top, and underneath there’s a lot of things going on under the water. You’re so excited to be there, because it’s a culmination of a dream most of us had since we were five and six years old, playing in the back yard. You also need to fit in, because it’s not the Triple-A club that you just came out of, where you probably were a guy. You’re not a guy. You’re an extra guy, as a matter of fact. You know what you are. You might get to play, if you have a special tool, once in a while. And if not, if you’re way ahead or way behind. The observation opportunities are incredible, to watch the preparation, the way [the guys] go about their work, the BP routines. To watch the speed of the game at the Major League level was one thing that always, and still to this day, amazes me…It was an exciting time. And you know you’re not tied to it in the same way you just came out, where you’re depended upon, and you just may have been in a playoff situation through all those things [in Triple-A].”
Jared Hughes – “I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. I wanted to be a good teammate, and try to follow along with my buddies and do what the veterans told us. Also, be able to make a contribution on the field. That’s actually probably the most important thing. But I’d say that overall it was just trying to fit in with the guys. A lot of whom I already knew, and go out there and help the team win.”
Keon Broxton – “It’s a little different, seeing a bunch of different group of guys that you haven’t been with all year. As far as that goes, I’m just learning everybody’s personality. They’re learning my personality. Just learning all the rules they have about the rookie situation. Just being very respectable to these guys. These guys have been grinding all year. I don’t want to come in and interrupt what they have going on. I want to join, and help out the club in any way I can. So it’s been awesome. It’s been a different situation, but it’s been good.”
Note: The Pirates seem like a very open group, and they seem to include the rookies and everyone in the organization in that group, which Hughes mentioned. I asked Broxton about the same thing and his experience with that.
“All of these guys out here are very open and willing to help. They’re not standoffish. They’re open to anything I need to ask them, or anything they want to tell me, they just come up and tell me.”
Broxton said he has received advice from Josh Harrison, Travis Snider, and Andrew McCutchen, among others.
“All of these guys. They’re around. They talk to me. They want to know where I’m from, how I did this year, and what I think about certain situations. So it’s awesome.”
At what point did it feel like you belonged in the Majors?
Clint Hurdle – “It didn’t change for me until, I’d like to say when I made the team my rookie year. But even as a rookie, I never felt that. Probably halfway through the season that I had gotten to a point where maybe you’re involved, you’re engrained, and you’re a part of this process. The September callup. I had 26 at-bats. I may have had eight hits. I hit [two] homers. Some people were impressed by that. But I was ‘if you’re counting on that all the time, I’m not so sure. I only hit 19 in Triple-A.’ It was different. It just took time.”
Jared Hughes – “I think it was really quick. The thing was, it was so easy. The transition was so easy because everybody accepted me. And right off the bat, I was a member of the team. And that’s what we try to do now with guys who are getting called up. We try to bring them in, and put them under our arms, and be like ‘You’re here. We need you. Thanks for showing up, and come out here and help us win.'”
Note: I’ve talked with Hughes in the past about this subject, and he’s mentioned that he never really feels that he has a spot locked down in the majors. I asked if that has changed, and if he feels he has a spot now.
“I still honestly, I don’t feel it. I feel like every single day is a day I’m grateful to be in the Major Leagues. There’s never going to be a time where I’m complacent, or feel like I’ve got a spot locked down, because I know how it works. I know that you have to continue to have success, and continue to work hard. This isn’t a game where anybody can get comfortable.”