DURING INFIELDER DRILLS IN BRADENTON, seven players took their positions: All had major league experience, but at most six would be with the Pirates when the season started on March 28. Only the first baseman worked solo. Pairs of players at second, shortstop, and third base knelt on white towels spread over the grass as they alternated fielding grounders. For each, the day loomed when “one will be taken and the other left,” whether to the major league bench or a minor league roster.
On an adjacent field, nonroster players worked out. Among them was Ke’Bryan Hayes, less than a month past his 22nd birthday, a touted prospect with high hopes. Nearby was Nick Franklin, almost 28. Like Hayes, Franklin was a first-round draft pick out of high school—but that was 10 years ago, and he’s yet to play a full season in the majors. The Pirates are his fifth club.
Into this anxious environment, Jauss brought the love. He praised a minor leaguer’s progress: “I read those box scores, you know!” He embraced the Pirates’ stated goal to “grow boys into men,” saying, “I’ve never been in an organization that has that as a goal. … That’s why I love being here.”
Other coaches also worked to connect: First-year hitting coach Rick Eckstein huddled over his phone with a player, reviewing video of batting practice swings. Another player, unsettled after some at-bats, sought out Eckstein. The coach checked back later: “Did you feel any difference?” Assistant pitching coach Justin Meccage worked his Spanglish, asking a pitcher to throw “maybe two or three mas” and commending his ball movement: “Action bueno.”
Players bridged gaps, too: Korean third baseman Jung Ho Kang spoke the international language of teammate harassment, launching a handful of sunflower seeds that cascaded down Venezuelan catcher Francisco Cervelli’s back. A Dominican pitcher chatted with Kang, their short English phrases punctuated by gestures illustrating a baseball’s flight past a hitter.
The key to forming a team, said Hurdle, is “getting them to play for something bigger than themselves, to find a way to really embrace celebrating the success of others. … At the end of the day, they want to be the last team jumping around on the field.”
For Jauss, though, it’s about more than winning it all: “You can walk away with a really good year, a really good team, and not hold a trophy. People don’t write [about] those things. But you know when it’s been a successful impact on yourself, on others.”
—Laura G. Singleton is a World Journalism Institute mid-career course graduate