BRADENTON, FL – Thirty teams in Major League Baseball. Thirty vastly different philosophies on the development of its players. The Pittsburgh Pirates are among only three organizations who take “eat, sleep and breathe baseball” quite literally with the Pirate City spring training complex.
The facility, originally built in 1969 with major renovations in 2008, houses over 150 players and staff in on-site dorms, feeds them three meals a day from its own cafeteria, has seven considerable fields, batting cages, a state of the art training facility and even the “Dojo”- Pirates’ own mental conditioning service.
Players both international and domestic have access to tools including Rosetta Stone and in-person language classes to not only acclimate foreign players to the states but to help English-speaking players better communicate with and understand their teammates. Pitching prospect Jacob Burnette found these services particularly useful.
“Especially when you first live here [Pirate City], they arrange for you to live with a Latin player. It forces you to get to know each other and teaches you the language a little more.”
Burnette is one of many players who opted out of a college program in favor of chasing a professional career sooner. The result puts players into the organization a few years ahead of others but also means dealing with a different level of maturity. “Prep players”, those signed out of high school, have most likely never lived away from family and for that matter, the structured life that comes with it.
“I had to mature a lot and very quickly. Living in Pirate City is good, especially for younger guys. It’s different that the staff can control things better. They monitor when you’re in and out with your swipe cards, they ensure you get balanced dietary needs in the cafeteria, it really helped me.”
Pirates players living within the City typically have enforced nighttime curfews and with good reason, breakfast hours begin at 6 a.m. Buses for away games load soon after, the rest report to the Dojo or fields to begin their days. The imposed curfew impresses responsible habits into the players but also ensures talent maximizing an early and full day’s opportunity.
Now 23, Burnette no longer lives on-site after getting married this past offseason but notes his first four years on-campus held him pretty responsible for the person and player he is today. The solid foundation allowed him to maintain his mental sharpness for the game while dealing with a shoulder scope procedure.
“I’m now in a really good place, I’m healthy, I’m just ready to continue developing my work.”
Players and staff aren’t the only people stirring at sunrise. Pirate City and its major league complex at McKechnie Field are staffed by some of the friendliest boosters in baseball. Comprised of mostly snowbirds, individuals such as Don Stammley begin to make their way down from various northern states (primarily Pennsylvania) to spend their time as volunteers helping ensure security and hospitality within Pittsburgh domain.
“It’s a totally different perspective. You go from only seeing the big league guys and it’s pretty simple. They all have their roster spot, the only thing left to negotiate is salary. Here you see the guys work, and really work! You can’t tell who’s fighting for a job and who’s already got one.”
Pittsburgh’s approach to development is outwardly evident.
“They’re very organized here. Every single athlete has great work ethic, they don’t ever stop running. They [players] come from all over the place you know, and living here they all get along.”
Within a week, volunteers and players alike will disperse. Some stay on to play for Class-A Bradenton but most will find themselves along the east coast, preparing for another season to prove Pittsburgh’s theory on how to raise a Pirate.