Kelly excited to be coach with Bucs
In the hope of turning over a new leaf in 2020, the Pittsburgh Pirates have undergone a front-office facelift and also made wholesale changes to their field coaching staff.
And one of the Pirates’ own, Don Kelly, will be in the dugout serving as the Bucs’ bench coach, along with being new manager Derek Shelton’s right-hand man.
The new job is an exciting homecoming for Kelly, 39, who has deep Pittsburgh roots. A native of Butler, Kelly played collegiate baseball at Point Park College, and went on to a major-league playing career as a utility player with the Pirates and Detroit Tigers.
Kelly is married to the former Carrie Walker, the sister of former Pirates’ second base standout Neil Walker. Don and Carrie Kelly are the parents of three sons.
Kelly was on hand Wednesday afternoon as part of the Pirates’ Altoona entourage at the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in the Logan Town Centre for the team’s annual Care-A-Van, which this year again benefited the Salvation Army’s Project Bundle-Up that provides warm winter clothing to disadvantaged children.
Kelly, widely regarded as one of Major League Baseball’s astute young minds and a future managerial candidate, relishes the opportunity to return to Pittsburgh and work alongside Shelton, who was hired this offseason to replace Clint Hurdle as manager.
“It’s awesome to come home and be part of the Pirates’ organization again,” the personable Kelly said. “It’s really humbling and cool to be back. When I was contacted by Pittsburgh to have an opportunity to come home, we (he and his family) were really excited about that.”
Kelly spent the 2019 season as a first base coach with the Houston Astros, who lost to the Washington Nationals in a seven-game World Series.
His move to the Pirates came quickly.
“As it goes, the Pirates had to call the Astros and ask for permission (to talk to Kelly) because I was still under contract with the Astros for this coming year,” Kelly said. “It went really fast from there.”
Besides coming back to home to Pittsburgh, Kelly may have been fortunate in another way. Earlier this offseason, the Astros fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after Major League Baseball uncovered the team’s involvement in a sign-stealing scheme that took place over the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The Astros won the World Series in seven games over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, an accomplishment that seems tainted now.
Kelly was a scout with the Tigers organization in 2017 and 2018, and said he had no knowledge of the Astros’ scheme when he served as their first base coach during the 2019 season.
“It’s something that happened prior to my time there,” Kelly said. “I didn’t hear anything about it (last year), I don’t know anything about it.”
Kelly is turning his attention toward working with the Pirates and Shelton.
“We had never crossed paths before this, but we’ve had great conversations by phone and text since I was hired,” Kelly said of Shelton, who served as the Minnesota Twins’ bench coach for the past two seasons. “Everybody that I know who knows him raves about the guy. We’ve been talking on a daily basis to make sure that we’re on the same page, and we have been. I love being here as the bench coach and helping Sheltie in any way that I can.”
Glenn Sherlock — who has known Shelton for the past three decades, since Sherlock was a coach and Shelton a minor-league catcher in the New York Yankees system — has been appointed by Shelton to coach the Pirates catchers and focus on run prevention. Sherlock, 59, will also assist Shelton and Kelly in game preparation.
Sherlock, who spent the last three seasons as a base coach with the New York Mets and the previous 19 as a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, thinks Shelton will fit in well in Pittsburgh as the Pirates try to turn around last season’s last-place finish in the National League’s Central Division.
“I think he’s going to do great,” Sherlock, also a member of Wednesday’s Care-A-Van, said of Shelton. “He’s really a talented guy, very smart, and he’s got a great personality. I think the players are going to enjoy playing for him.”
Last year wasn’t much fun for the Pirates, with clubhouse dissension leading to the team’s second-half collapse on the field.
“We’re a very, very young team,” Sherlock said. “So as this team gains experience, it’s going to have success. I’m excited about it.”