Managing a major league baseball team is important work, but Clint Hurdle believes he has an even more significant mission.
In a keynote address at Forbes Hospital’s Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on Jan. 4, Hurdle, the colorful manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2010, told the crowd of 300 Pittsburghers gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in Monroeville that it was his faith that brought him to Pittsburgh. That faith continues to motivate him in his family, team and community relations, he said.
“Winning ball games is important,” Hurdle told his audience, which included representatives of several different religions. “However the reason for me being here today is because I really believe I had an opportunity to come to Pittsburgh because God wanted me to come here and make a difference.”
In addition to being known for reversing the Pirates’ longtime losing streak, Hurdle is also widely recognized for his philanthropy and community service. In 2014, he received the Brooks Robinson Community Service Award from the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association for his work — along with his wife, Karla — as the national spokesperson for the Prader-Willi Association, an organization that raises awareness for a complex genetic disorder. The Hurdles hosted a fundraising campaign with ROOT Sports and Pirates Charities each season to assist the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh’s Center for Prader-Willi Syndrome.
Forbes Hospital’s president, Dr. Mark Rubino, invited Hurdle to speak at the breakfast along with several clergy members from the local faith community, including Rabbi Barbara AB Symons, spiritual leader of Temple David in Monroeville. Forbes sponsored the breakfast in order to “start 2017 on the right foot,” with a morning of prayers for unity, peace and health for the community and the country.
“[Rubino] had a thought that I could provide some inspiration, some energy,” Hurdle said. “I’ve had another opportunity to do that in another venue, in the ballpark. I’m a small part of what’s going on. My job is in the clubhouse, in the dugout, and every once in a while, in an interaction with the umpire — to share my thoughts, and my inspiration and my hope with them. And sometimes it leads to an adult time-out.”
With humor and grace, Hurdle described some of the challenges in his own life, including two marriages that ended in divorce and raising a child with special needs, and how his faith has helped guide him through the years.
But, not unexpectedly, his talk frequently returned to the Pirates.
“I really believe I’ve been given the opportunity in baseball to help boys grow into men, and men grow into leaders,” he said. “And when I was gifted the opportunity to come here to Pittsburgh, one of the first things I did share with everybody was that this was the greatest coaching opportunity in baseball.”
When the friends to whom Hurdle frequently turns to for advice wondered why he chose to come to Pittsburgh six years ago, he told them he felt a “pull in a big way” to the Steel City.
“And I really felt that after 18 consecutive losing seasons, anyone could come in here and get lucky,” he joked. “It’s bound to turn around. I mean, come on. You can’t really mess anything up, because it’s been 18 losing seasons.”
Beyond winning baseball games, Hurdle said, his calling with the Pirates is to impart to the players their potential for positive impact.
“On the other side of it, there’s a much bigger mission going on, and that’s about our community, that’s about our country, that’s about our clubhouse,” he said. “I really share with my men every spring that they are going to be ex-players much longer than they are going to be players … so get it right now. Starting today, get it right, on what your stance is, what you believe in, what you want to share.
“That name on the front of the jersey, you represent a city that’s real, that’s vibrant, that has people that love sports, that love their city. Never forget that name on the front of the jersey. You are going to put it on every day. That name on the back? That’s mom and dad. That’s your brother, that’s your sister, that’s your home. That’s your family. Don’t take this uniform lightly. Represent while you have a chance.”
Following Hurdles’ address, Symons delivered a prayer for unity, recognizing the import of gathering as an interfaith community.
“By coming together to learn and share and pray, we are inoculating ourselves and therefore our community against division, conflict and malady,” she said. “It is only by being together, each of us created in the image of God, that God’s unity is reflected on Earth.”
Rubino was pleased with the large turnout of community members, and the messages of the faith leaders, which included Rev. J. LaVon Kincaid Sr. of the New Life Community Church, and Bhante Pemaratana, the chief abbot of the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center.
“I think this shows the fabric of our community, that we could come together, on relatively short notice,” Rubino said in an interview. “When you listened to the messages delivered by all the clergy, they all had a little bit of a different take on things, but they were all about unity. And I’m very proud of everyone that came here today.”
Symons, who does a lot of interfaith work in the community, was pleased with the inclusivity of the program.
“I think this is another showing of how, when we all make the effort to be inclusive, but yet true to our own beliefs and religions, that we are stronger together,” she said. “I very much believe in celebrating diversity and I think this is a wonderful way to start off the morning and the year.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.