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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Even teammates are awed by McCutchen

National League MVP Award winner has made the sensational seem routine

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Even teammates are awed by McCutchen play video for Even teammates are awed by McCutchen

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Someone put a package of Andrew McCutchen highlights on the Pirates' giant clubhouse television Friday morning.

While they were playing, McCutchen's teammates did what a lot of the rest of us have done the past few years while he has emerged as one of baseball's best and most dazzling players.

They sat and watched.

As cool Spring Training scenes go, this one was as good as it gets. As the highlights played out, and as the Pirates reacted with shouts and claps, more and more of them turned their chairs toward the television or simply crept closer to the screen.

There was McCutchen flying from first to third, running down balls in the gap and powering them over the wall at various points in his career. He routinely makes difficult plays seem so routine that it's impossible not to take his grace and speed for granted at times.

And then McCutchen will do something that will bring fans out of their seats. Once, when a grounder shot down the third-base line in one highlight Friday morning, a teammate yelled, "Triple!"

One of the really cool things about the Bucs' breakthrough 2013 season was that a lot of fans got to see McCutchen for the first time. Or they saw more of him than they'd seen before. They were all left with the realization that his package of skills is so special that he's one of the players we'll all remember we were lucky enough to see play.

Yeah, McCutchen is that good.

"I feel spoiled to be part of it," Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. "Nothing he does surprises me anymore."

Walker and McCutchen have been teammates since 2006 in the Minors. Back then, McCutchen was one of those players others looked at and said, "He's going to be special."

Players say this about other players all the time at that level. Only thing is, stuff happens along the way to derail the ride.

McCutchen was special then, and he is even more special now. He combined tremendous skills with a relentless will to be great.

"Every day he plays, something new happens that wows you," Bucs shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "You see him do things over and over, and yet you still see him do things that are special."

As Walker said, "All the work and effort came to fruition."

As Pirates general manager Neal Huntington began to put the finishing touches on his reconstruction of the team, he made McCutchen the cornerstone by signing him to a six-year, $51.5-million contract in 2012.

It all came together last summer, as the Bucs made their first postseason appearance in 21 years and McCutchen became the first Pittsburgh player to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award since Barry Bonds in 1992.

"It was good for all of us," McCutchen said. "The way we ended up is definitely not where we wanted to end, but it was a good start for us. We can go from there."

The Pirates beat the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game, but lost a deciding fifth game in the NL Division Series to the Cardinals.

As for what the season meant personally, McCutchen defined it within the framework of the team. He stayed with Pittsburgh because he believed something special was being built.

"It just showed me I was living out what I believed we could do," McCutchen said. "Staying positive, knowing we were going to win and that we're going to continue to win. It's starting to come to fruition."

McCutchen's name was dotted across the NL leaderboard last season: third in hits, sixth in stolen bases, seventh in doubles and batting average, third in on-base percentage, sixth in on-base-plus slugging. He was also one of baseball's best defensive center fielders.

Beyond those things, there are intangibles. McCutchen is a catalyst. Fans come to see him and other players feed off of him.

"His intensity, his hustle, his effort. His focus," Walker said, "those things trickle down through the team."

Now, back to those highlights on Friday.

As they played out, as players cheered, McCutchen sat in a recliner to the right of the screen. He smiled some, watched some and made a comment or two. Mostly, though, he seemed to soak in the moment, one small tribute in a sea of them the past few years.

"It's fun to watch how I progressed through the course of my career," McCutchen said. "It's always good to reflect on all that when you're watching it. We all have lots of fun watching those types of things."

Oh, and one other footnote.

McCutchen stepped to home plate in the bottom of the first inning Friday and promptly slapped the ball over the left-field wall for his third home run of the spring. Stay tuned for more.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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