BRADENTON, Fla. (AP)The smile never seemed to leave Derek Shelton’s face as he walked from one practice field to another while watching the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitchers and catchers go through their first spring training workout.
Shelton was hired as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Nov. 27. However, it didn’t feel quite real until Wednesday.
“It was cool,” said Shelton, with a smile. “I’ve been waiting a long time to be out here. It was a little bit emotional.”
Shelton spent the previous 15 seasons as a coach with the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins. He was Rocco Baldelli’s bench coach last year when Minnesota won the AL Central.
Shelton replaces Clint Hurdle, who was fired on the final day of last season after a nine-year tenure. The Pirates had a 69-93 record and finished last in the NL Central for the first time since 2010.
The first day was even more special for Shelton with father Ron watching the workout from along one of the foul lines. Ron Shelton was a high school baseball coach in Illinois for 35 years.
“You’ll see my dad a lot,” Derek said. “He’s probably more excited than I am. It’s really special. He knows a lot about the game. I’m very fortunate because he has certain thoughts on things and how they should be done.
“Anytime you can share an experience like this with your family, especially your father, is special and a real bonding moment”
The Pirates also have new general manager Ben Cherington, who replaces Neal Huntington.
Yet Pittsburgh has made just a few changes to the roster since the end of last season. Many analysts are picking the Pirates to finish last again.
Not surprisingly, Shelton has a different outlook about his club.
“I’m excited about our group,” Shelton said. “I’ve said numerous times that we have a young core that has a chance to get better. The plan for spring training is to try to get better each day.”
Shelton did drop one bit of news, saying Keone Kela would begin the season as the closer. Felipe Vazquez was an All-Star the past two seasons but was arrested in September on felony charges stemming from an improper sexual relationship with a minor.
Kela converted 24 of 25 save opportunities for the Texas Rangers in 2018 before being traded to the Pirates in late July.
Kela says he’s excited about getting another chance to close and work with his new manager.
“(Shelton’s) message is to just have fun,” Kela said. “He’s waited a long time to be a manager. He has that passion and I think it’s going to resonate through the whole clubhouse. It’s a new feel. It’s a new vibe. I think it’s what everyone wants. We want to change the narrative of everything.”
NOTES: The four players who went surgery during the offseason have reported to camp healthy: RHP Geoff Hartlieb (right foot), C Christian Kelley (left hand), INF/OF Erik Gonzalez (left foot) and OF Jason Martin (left shoulder). … The Pirates also have five new coaches in Don Kelly (bench), Oscar Marin (pitching), Tarrik Brock (first base), Mike Rabelo (assistant hitting) and Glenn Sherlock (catching). … The first full-squad workout is scheduled for Monday.