Pirates perfect challenge for Hurdle
Clint Hurdle found the perfect fit in Pittsburgh — professionally and, just as important, personally.
Hurdle faces a challenge on the field as he tries to pump life back into a Pirates franchise that not only has suffered a professional sports-record 18 consecutive losing seasons but also has lost the enthusiasm of its fan base.
Challenges, however, are embraced by Hurdle.
"There is not a bigger opportunity in sports to reignite a fan base and re-bond a team with a great sports town," Hurdle said of taking over as Pirates manager.
It wasn’t as if Hurdle felt obligated to take the job. He also was a finalist for the New York Mets managerial spot, which went to Terry Collins, but Hurdle took the job in Pittsburgh before even getting to a second interview in New York.
And it wasn’t as if Hurdle was consumed about managing again after being fired in May 2009 after seven years as the Colorado Rockies' field boss.
"A lot of guys want to manage again, but it never got to that point with me until someone wanted me to manage again," said Hurdle, who served as hitting coach for the AL-champion Texas Rangers last season. "I was in a good place. I wasn’t scheming to manage from the day I got fired. I was at peace with where I was. It was stimulating. It was exciting."
But when the Rangers were knocked off by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, the calls came. First from the Pirates, then the Mets. Hurdle’s desire to manage again was sparked.
And as impressed as he was with the Mets' executives during that initial interview, Pittsburgh has a special appeal. The chance to build, as he did in taking the Rockies to their first World Series in 2007, is exciting. But that’s not all.
"By the same token," Hurdle said, "there are some opportunities for my family in Pittsburgh that don’t exist other places, especially medically."
Madison Hurdle, 8, suffers from Prader-Willi Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that affects about one in every 12,000 people. The Children’s Institute in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh is the a leader in Prader-Willi Syndrome research.
In Denver, Madison benefited from the work of the staff at Children’s Hospital, which has a strong Prader-Willi research history. It also has been the beneficiary of a golf tournament Hurdle sponosred since becoming the Rockies' hitting coach in 1997, long before Madison was born. In addition, Hurdle has become a celebrity spokesman for Prader-Willi research.
The Children’s Institute, however, offers even more, including the only in-house clinic for Prader-Willi research in the world. And the Hurdle family has a strong support group, considering his wife, Karla, who hails from Pennsylvania and has two brothers and three sisters who still live in the state and another sister who lives on Long Island, N.Y.
"The opportunity with the Pirates was at the top of the list, but everything else fell into place to enhance that opportunity and to create a seamless transition," said Hurdle.
Off the field, the year in Texas was a bit challenging at times for Hurdle. Prader-Willi Syndrome involves conditions ranging from overeating to low muscle tone to moderate retardation to morbid obesity. In cases that are initially undiagnosed, households have been required to padlock cupboards and refrigerators in efforts to deal with violence that can stem from the eating disorder.
The Hurdles were among the fortunate. When Madison was born, doctors noticed something out of kilter, and she was diagnosed before being sent home. Doctors were able to set up a plan to try to temper the Prader-Willi Syndrome from birth.
It involved consistency in eating times and in surroundings, which is why Karla chose to maintain the home in Denver while her husband coached in Texas last season.
"It was a great ride and gave me a chance to watch the game from a different perspective, but there were difficult family times," Hurdle said. "It was a challenge being apart. There were different tensions."
Given the medical and family support in Pittsburgh, that won’t be an issue this summer.
And Hurdle will again have a very public platform to aid the search for a cure to Prader-Willi Syndrome.
"I really believe there are reasons you see so many people that have limited celebrity, or a lot of celebrity, have these special-needs children come into their lives," Hurdle said. "It is part of God’s perfect plan to get the message out."
And the message is reinforced to Hurdle, time and again.
He related a story of one day asking a pregnant woman if she was having a boy or girl, and the woman telling him it didn’t matter as long as the baby was healthy.
Hurdle smiled to himself.
Hurdle and Karla have. So have Hurdle’s daughter from a previous marriage, Ashley, 25, and his son, Christian, 5.
It requires patience, but it 's rewarding.
"The society we live in wants everything now," Hurdle said. "Baseball is a results-oriented world. Well, I’ve come to understand that sometimes results come in their own time. You can’t force things.
"You want to build a solid foundation, and if you do that you provide a chance to success.’’
It’s an approach Hurdle has learned works on the field, and off.
"You live with His plan," Hurdle said. "You know what they say: If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you plan to do tomorrow."