by Bolton Bob
Met his wife Pam and eventually Nate McLouth, after an O's - Pirates game in Bradenton Fl. in March, watching the postgame fireworks. She was telling me about the recently purchased second home they bought in Nashville, Tenn. Nate killed 2 birds with one stone, by having a home closer to her parents and being able to get away from the frigid Michigan winters.
Folks probably know that former Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth, now 30, has over 500 ML hits, was an All Star and won a Gold Glove in 2008, yet many still question his defensive and offensive capabilities, but former Pirate GM Neal Huntington has a different take. In 2007, he assigned a video assistant to splice together footage of every defensive play outfielders McLouth and Nygel Morgan made in 2007, not just fly balls.
The determination, one that might have surprised more observers than, was that McLouth was, in the words of one team official, "just as good, maybe better." Huntington also analyzed all players' hitting tendencies and McLouth, in 2008 was seeing a team-high 4.5 pitches per plate appearance. In 2002, he struck out once every 9.44 plate appearances in Class A and walked nearly as often, establishing uncommon command of the zone, an element never stressed by previous management, including manager Jim Tracey, who only started Nate, a lefty, when resting veteran Chris Duffy, against tough lefthanders.
As Pirates hitting coach Don Long put it, "That approach he has, that patient, sweet-swinging style, that's not something you teach." When he was 4 years old, "Nate would take pitches," said his father, Rick McLouth. "Honestly, if he didn't like what I threw, he wouldn't even budge."
"My parents were such a great influence and supportive of me, as well as my two brothers, Jake and Christopher," McLouth said. "I don't think through all the little league, junior high and high school years that they missed one of our games. Dad was always supportive of me, but "he never once forced me to do anything baseball related," McLouth said.
McLouth, the oldest of the three boys, grew up in a tight family in quiet, quaint Whitehall, population 2,800. "The thing that struck you about Nate wasn't just his talent," said Warren Zweigle, his coach at Whitehall High School. "It was the way he applied himself, how hard he worked to learn and get better at everything." He batted .514 as a senior and went 51 for 51 in steals, and shared the state's Mr. Baseball honors and was honorable mention on USA Today's All-America list. He quarterbacked the football team to their only two state championships.
After graduating from Whitehall, stealing a total of 179 bases in 180 attempts, McLouth was selected by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2000 June draft, although he had a full scholarship to the University of Michigan. They offered $100,000, and it was rejected despite it being miles above 25th-round money. The Pirates learned they would not be able to sign a fourth-round pick, so that money could be shifted to McLouth. Duane Gustavson, the scout handling the signing, met with the McLouths for five hours at their home and offered $500,000, plus full college tuition if he attends someday.
Pitching Coach Ray Searage said he loved McLouth during his first stint with the Pirates because of his tenacity. "He was a fan favorite, and he goes out and plays hard ...," Searage said. "The thing about Pittsburgh fans is they appreciate hard work, and they appreciate grit. They really enjoy watching players who give everything and their all, and if they come up short, it's the effort that's behind it. It's the attitude that's behind it. "
McLouth got his first major league hit on August 12, 2005, against Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and made his first start two days later. On May 20, 2006, McLouth hit his first career lead-off home run against former Oriole Jason Johnson of the Cleveland Indians. From 2005-2009, McLouth emerged as the starting centerfielder for the Pirates. Nate came close to winning the Most Valuable Player award at the 2008 All Star game Yankee Stadium. After throwing out the potential winning run at home plate with a perfect strike, McLouth sent a drive to deep right field in his final at bat caught by the rightfielder just short of the seats.
He hit his first walkoff at any level in Atlanta in 2010 - to cap a wild 4-3 comeback victory over the Phillies at Turner Field, but no one was at the plate to celebrate. "I looked when I got around second [base] and everybody had gone [toward the clubhouse]," McLouth said. "I didn't know what to do when I crossed home, and there they were waiting for me in the tunnel. I kind of did the weird little dance before I got down there. I didn't know what to do, to be honest with you. I knew I had to slam the helmet at some point, so I did that when I crossed home." Rumor has it Tim Hudson was seen hurrying his teammates into the clubhouse to complete the caper.
From various sources.
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