BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates spent much of the winter hoping for a reunion with A.J. Burnett. On Saturday, they will finally have it -- not in the preferred way, though.
Burnett is due to make his first appearance for his new team against his old team when the Bucs go to Clearwater, Fla., to take on the Phillies. Jeff Locke, his PNC Park locker-room neighbor and best Pirates bud, won't travel to see his friend in Philadelphia red. And it seems to be very tough for him.
"No, I won't go. It's not protocol to go on the road when you're not pitching to see your friend pitch," Locke, who went two innings in Tampa on Thursday, said with a wry grin. "It'll be exciting, for sure. It'll be special.
"I know for a fact [Burnett] is excited," added Locke, who has a hunch Burnett asked for the assignment against his teammates of the last two years. "I wouldn't be surprised. It's in A.J.'s nature to want something and try to go get it. We'll be ready, and it'll be a good challenge for our guys to face someone like him. I wouldn't want to throw against our guys, so good luck to him."
The Phillies, the only National League team on the Pirates' exhibition schedule, will see the Bucs five more times. So there is an excellent chance Locke will eventually get that firsthand look at Burnett in red. He might even get to pitch against Burnett.
Still, there is nothing quite like that first reunion.
"I'd like to see A.J. give a hat nod or something to [manager Clint Hurdle] and the guys," said Locke, who would miss not being on the receiving end of that acknowledgment.
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.