Pirates begin workouts; focus shifts to Polanco

BRADENTON, Fla. – The first week of spring training is in the books, but it’s still too early to make any solid observations about the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Exhibition games begin next week, and manager Clint Hurdle and the Pirate brain trust will start zeroing in on then.

The annual Black and Gold intra-squad game kicks things off Tuesday, and the Yankees make their first of three appearances at McKechnie Field on Wednesday. Everyone, of course, is hoping Derek Jeter will make the trip from Tampa since he announced he will retire at the end of the season, and this will be one of the last chances to see the Yankee captain in uniform.

The full Pirate squad had its first workout Tuesday, and more than 500 people flocked to Pirate City to catch a glimpse. Normally, there are between 200 and 300 at a workout, but crowds are bigger, no doubt, because of the club’s successful 2013 season.

In the early going, the club is paying close attention to Gregory Polanco, the young right fielder who played 68 games with the Curve last season. The players are normally put together in threesomes for batting practice, and Polanco has been teamed with veterans Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker much of the time. Most people figure Polanco will start at Triple-A Indianapolis but could be in the big leagues before the season is over.

We spent much of the first week renewing acquaintances with Curve alums Jared Hughes, Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Andrew Lambo, Chase d’Arnaud, Walker and pitching coach Ray Searage. Manager Carlos Garcia and batting coach Ryan Long seem anxious to return to the Curve for 2014.

On the autograph trail, Jean and Joan landed, among others, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, Neil Walker, Starling Marte, Andrew Lambo, Travis Snider and prospects Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia and Reese Maguire, the organization’s No. 1 draft pick last summer.

Plenty of media-types continue to float around, including Dan Zangrilli, the former Curve announcer who now does pre- and postgame shows on Pittsburgh radio. John Perrotto and Guy Junker, both familiar to Altoona folks, are here, too.

Several faces from the Altoona area – some I know and others I don’t – are enjoying the baseball and the sun. We chatted with Altoonans John and Terry Carnicella and Jim McDowell and Ed Hamer, who have ties to Philipsburg.

My friend, Karl Diehl, is here with his family. Diehl, 96 years young, makes baseball bats at his Roaring Spring home and has been giving them to Curve and Pirate players for years. He presented a couple of his bats to Hurdle on Friday, prompting Diehl to say, “That made my day.”

In off-the-field news, Jeff Locke has cut his hair, Jason Grilli hasn’t and Pedro Alvarez is sporting a new Mohawk. Josh Harrison is a new father and was permitted to report to camp a day late. My vote for the most cordial Pirate the first week goes to Neil Walker, who seemingly has signed more autographs than the rest of the veteran players combined.

For those of you keeping track of the restaurants we visit, here’s some of the latest: Duff’s Original Buffet, Cafe on the Beach, Beef ‘O’Bradys and the Rod & Reel Pier.

Until next week

Jim Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.