Mazeroski, Virdon join Hurdle on Bucs' bench

Mazeroski, Virdon join Hurdle on Bucs' bench

Mazeroski, Virdon join Hurdle on Bucs' bench
PITTSBURGH -- Maz and Quail were both in the house on Tuesday night. And Bill Mazeroski and Bill Virdon, icons of a golden Pirates era, are going to stick around a while at the invitation of manager Clint Hurdle.

Mazeroski, the Hall of Fame second baseman, and Virdon, the center fielder who joined him up the middle on the 1960 World Series champs, have been frequent special instructors for Spring Trainings in Bradenton.

However, and amazingly, Tuesday night's PNC Park opener of the Interleague Series against the Twins was the first game Mazeroski has spent on the bench in a Pirates uniform since his playing days. Hurdle needed the Minnesota manager's permission for Mazeroski and Virdon to be in the dugout during the game, and former teammate Ron Gardenhire was happy to oblige.

"I didn't even know how to get out here," Mazeroski said with a wry smile, sitting in the Bucs dugout several hours before the first pitch. He called the opportunity to suit up for a Pirates game "amazing. I'm already having a great time."

Mazeroski drove in from his Pennsylvania home, and beat Virdon, who flew in from Missouri and was caught in airport traffic on his way into town.

Inviting their presence and expertise was the brainchild of Hurdle. Rather, a no-brainer that occurred to the Pirates skipper.

"It made sense to bring them back in," Hurdle said. "I'd talked to them when we left Spring Training, and told them I thought it'd be nice if we didn't stop there with it.

"I've been searching for ways to add value to everything we do throughout the season. We'll have them here to help coach and teach. It's hard for me to think this one's going to miss by any means, with Virdon and Maz in the clubhouse and in the dugout. Everybody wins."

One sermon Mazeroski and Virdon can definitely deliver to the current Pirates: Greatness sprouts from despair; those 1960 Pirates were the heirs of some of the worst teams in Major League history.

Both joined the team (Mazeroski as a rookie, Virdon in a trade from St. Louis) in 1956, when the Pirates finished seventh in the eight-team National League. Another seventh-place finish followed in 1957, with the team losing 180 games those two seasons. Earlier in the '50s, the Bucs had three consecutive seasons of 100-plus losses.

"We were fighting every year with the Phillies to stay out of last place," said Mazeroski, pounding a glove presented to him a couple of years ago by Neil Walker, whom he has mentored in Spring Training. "Then we added some guys -- (Harvey) Haddix, (Don) Hoak and (Smoky) Burgess -- and boom! They put us over the top and we had one helluva year (in 1960)."

Haddix was a 34-year-old left-hander, Hoak a 31-year-old corner infielder and Burgess a 32-year-old catcher when the trio was acquired prior to the 1959 season.

Karma for Erik Bedard (33), Casey McGehee (30) and Rod Barajas (36)?

"They hung in there pretty well last year," Mazeroski said of the 2011 Pirates, who raised fans' hopes by being in or around first place through late July. "I think this year is more permanent. They're stronger at different positions. I think the pitching's going to hold up very well, and we've got enough to keep contending all year long."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.