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Perrotto: All Good in Pirates’ World on Sunny First Day



Pittsburgh Pirates, Derek Shelton

BRADENTON, Fla. – A smile quickly spread across Derek Shelton’s face.

Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and catchers had just concluded their first workout of spring training on a picture-perfect day at Pirate City. Shelton, entering his fifth year as manager, was asked if the first day of camp remains exciting for him.

“Today’s great,” Shelton said. “You spend all winter long having conversations, talking to players, reading emails about what you could possibly do. This is the day. You get out on the field and get to watch guys throw. This day’s really exciting and then we’re four days away from when you have a full group.”

The rest of the squad does not start working out until Sunday. However, many of the Pirates’ key players have already reported to camp, including third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, shortstop Oneil Cruz, left fielder Bryan Reynolds, center fielder Jack Suwinski and first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who was signed as a free agent in December.

“What really excites me is we’re in year five and you look out and a good group of our position players are here, and our core guys are here,” Shelton said. “They’re here the first day and we’re running damn near full workout on the field with the position player group. I think that shows you how excited they are to be back.”

The first day of spring training always brings a certain degree of excitement.

However, it has often seemed to be manufactured in recent springs. Deep down, the Pirates knew that had no chance of contending, which was only verified by finishing in last place in the National League Central for four straight seasons from 2019-22.

The Pirates finally escaped the basement last year. Though they moved up only one spot in the division standings to fourth place, they finished with a 76-86 record, which was a 14-win improvement over 2022.

This year, there seems to be legitimate hope that the Pirates can contend in what looks like a wide-open NL Central.

“I think if you come into spring training and you don’t think that, you’re in for a long year,” Pirates closer David Bednar said. “I really do think that the group we have, and the young guys that were able to get some experience (last season) and then adding some veterans in the clubhouse is really cool. I’m really looking forward to it.”

One of the added veterans is left-hander Martin Perez, who signed as a free agent in January.

Perez knows what winning looks like after playing for the World Series champion Texas Rangers last season. He believes the Pirates can reach the postseason this year for the first time since 2015.

“This is a great team to play (for), a great city,” Perez said. “I know a couple coaches from the past. When I got the call, I think it was a good opportunity for me. I’m not coming here to just do my job on the mound. I come here to try and help my teammates, to let them know how good it is to win a World Series. I just try to bring that mentality to these guys and try to make them better people and better players, to make sure they know how to compete to get to that point.”

That certainly sounds hopeful. Of course, the Pirates have seen the hope of spring training turn into disappointment by September plenty of times since winning their last World Series in 1979.

Will the Pirates win the World Series this season? Probably not.

Yet the feeling in camp is that the Pirates turned a corner last season and better days are ahead.

No wonder Shelton was grinning.

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