There was a lot of rooting for the Black and Gold last night in Fort Meade.
But it wasn’t at Emory Lamb Stadium. It was in front of television sets across the city as Andrew McCutchen, Fort Meade’s baseball star, led the Pittsburgh Pirates into baseball’s post-season for the first time in 21 years when they hosted the Cincinnati Reds in a one-game wild-card playoff game in Pittsburgh.
McCutchen is a graduate of Fort Meade High School, and his arrival with the Pirates in 2009 coincided with Pittsburgh’s climb back to baseball relevance.
He finished third in Most Valuable Player voting in the National League last year, and is one of a handful of players expected to vie for that honor this season.
The all-star centerfielder hit .317 this year, with 21 homers, 84 RBI and 27 stolen bases, not to mention his Gold Glove caliber defense. It was a McCutchen throw from center field in the final week of the season, in the bottom of the ninth in Chicago, that provided the out that guaranteed the Pirates a playoff spot this year.
His superior batting eye — he hit .327 last year — is the result, in part, of his father Lorenzo tossing tape-wrapped fishing corks to his young son, who honed his skills by swinging at them not with a baseball bat but a broomstick.
Last season, he worked on improving his batting stance, according to a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review newspaper, by studying tapes of the games top hitters.
He also used his offseason time in Florida to improve his throwing. Most mornings he would rise early and engage in a series of long-toss workouts to improve his arm strength.
When the Pirates clinched their playoff spot, the celebration included McCutchen’s own personal champagne shower. While his teammates poured the bubbly, they chanted MVP.
McCutchen’s popularity extends far beyond the borders of Pittsburgh or Polk County. His jersey sales ranked No. 8 in all of Major League Baseball, ahead of such stars as Mike Trout, Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera and Bryce Harper.
And for the second straight year, he earned the team’s Roberto Clemente Award which goes to the Pirates MVP as voted upon by local sportswriters in Pittsburgh.
“We feed off everything he does,” Manager Clint Hurdle told the Tribune Review when the award was announced. Overall, it’s the third time since he made it to the Pirates that he’s won the award.
The winner of last night’s game is set to open a five-game playoff series against St. Louis on Thursday. The results of last night’s game came too late for this edition of The Leader.
After a 4-2 win Sunday in Cincinnati, a game in which “Cutch” and many of the Pirates regulars did not play, McCutchen said the long stretch of futility makes this year all the better.
“It shows where we’ve come from, shows where we are now,” he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “It makes winning that much sweeter. It’s awesome to see what we’re doing now.”