BRADENTON, Fla. - Spring training 2011 is in full swing. Grapefruit League action began last weekend, and the Pirates hosted five games at McKechnie Field through Friday.
Although it's early - and yes, it's only exhibition - the Clint Hurdle era is providing some positive signs and possible hope for the future. After compiling a 7-21 record in 2010, the Pirates won four of their first six games this spring and actually won two in a row for the first time since 2009.
Jose Tabata was batting .417 with five hits in four games, Pedro Alvarez was hitting .357 after reaching base safely in each of his first five games and Alex Presley, bidding to win a utility job in the outfield, reached base safely seven times in his first 12 plate appearances.
Curve alum Brad Lincoln pitched three scoreless innings of relief to get the win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, and Daniel Moskos earned a save in a win over the Yankees last Tuesday.
New manager Hurdle has pledged more aggressive baserunning, and the Pirates have shown that, stealing at least one base in six straight games. The Bucs were successful 10 times in their first 13 attempts.
A couple of personal, early observations: The Pirates appear to be showcasing Ryan Doumit in hopes of trading the switch-hitting catcher, and Garrett Atkins, who played for Hurdle in Colorado, looks like a lock to win one of the utility infield jobs.
Aside to Curve usher Joe Miller: Brewers scout Ben McClure sends his regards.
Plenty of Altoona/Blair County folks were at the ballpark this week, including Chick Dillen, Rick and Jeannie Geist, Tony and Marlene Fubio and Don Claar. Jay and Joan Perry have joined the Altoona group at Timber Creek, along with Fred and Barb Woods and Ed and Patty Boslet.
We renewed acquaintances with former Mirror staffer Tony Krastek and his wife, Georgia, at the ballpark. Tony has been a lawyer in the Pittsburgh area for many years now. Hollidaysburg native Ron Musselman, who writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is covering camp the next two weeks.
Pirate owners Ogden and Bob Nutting - the Mirror is among their chain of newspapers - are here this weekend, too.
Lots of games provided lots of opportunities for Jean and Joan to add to their autograph collections, and they did, nabbing Joe Maddon, Kelly Shoppach and James Shields of the Rays, Buck Showalter, Willie Randolph, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds of the Orioles, Nick Swisher, Curtis Ganderson, Eric Chavez and Tony Pena of the Yankees, Matt Capps, Jason Kubel and Brian Duensing of the Twins and former big-league player and manager Jim Fregosi, now a scout with the Braves.
Away from the ballpark, we attended the Pirates' annual banquet for spring training season-ticket holders at the Manatee County Convention Center on Wednesday. Pirate announcer Greg Brown emceed the affair that featured his broadcast partner Steve Blass, club president Frank Coonelly, Hurdle and players Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker on the dais.
We also made our annual trek to the Strawberry Festival in Plant City on Thursday and enjoyed Bobby Vinton and Kenny Rogers, a couple of classic performers.
Until next week
Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.