I forgot to say goodbye.
It’s always funny, how you picture something happening in your head, versus how it happens in real life. In my head, I pictured myself savoring every moment of my last game as a Pirate: This is my last time making that drive to the ballpark, as I’d come up on Sixth Street, by the Clemente Bridge, like a thousand times before. This is my last time putting on that black and yellow, as I’d fix up in the clubhouse mirror and make sure my hat looked just right. This is my last time poking my head out of that dugout … stepping into that batter’s box … swinging that bat … hitting that ball … running those bases…. for the only fans I’ve ever known.
This is my last time being a Pittsburgh Pirate.
In your head, you think you’ll savor it, all of it, and really make it count.
But the truth is — when the time comes, and it happens for real?
It won’t even be on your mind.
That’s the truth: It never actually sank in to me that September 27th, a Wednesday night game against the Orioles, might be my last home game ever as a Pirate. I’m sure that’s hard to believe for some people, with all of the trade talk that had been going on last season — but I guess that’s just how I dealt with it, you know? There had been so much talk, for so long … so many questions and rumors … that I think my only way of coping with it all was to block it out entirely. To say — You know what? That’s it. I’m a Pirate. And until the day that someone tells me different, man … being a Pirate is all I’m going to worry about.
So when our last game of the season at PNC came around, I was really just treating it like any other night. Got to the park. Put on that number 22 jersey. Warmed up. Stretched out. Took BP. Played the field in the top of the first. And in the bottom, when they called my name — poked my head out of the home dugout, same as always, and stepped into the batter’s box.
And that’s when the most amazing thing happened.
The fans … the fans, man. I don’t even know what to say.
They just erupted.
They just got out of their seats, and stood up, and started cheering for me like crazy. I’m telling you — like crazy. I mean, I’ve gotten cheered loudly before … but this was out of that world, and into another. Like — Baltimore’s pitcher had to step off the rubber, it was so crazy. And at first, I was just thinking, you know, Alright — last home game of the season, fans are a little hype, they’re showing their appreciation for me, that’s humbling. But then it just kept … going. And going, and going. It kept going until there was nothing that I could do but tip my cap. Until there was nothing left for me but to acknowledge it, and embrace it.
And for a moment, even — savor it.
It’s hard to explain, the relationship that you can develop with a city and its fans over the course of a career. But you get to this point where, I swear, it’s like you can almost … read each other’s minds. You get to this point where, at any given moment, the city will know how you’re feeling, and you’ll know how it’s feeling right back. Where it’s feeding off of your play, and you’re feeding off of its noise, and then around again.
And I swear, man, on that night … it’s like they just knew. It’s like somehow those fans in PNC knew that I was too focused on baseball — too focused on treating it like any other game — to savor the moment on my own. Knew that I was too focused on still being a Pirate to have the ending that I’d imagined I would.
And so they had my back. They gave me the ovation of my life.
They gave me the thank you that, now, I’m ready to give them.
People keep asking me for the inside story about the trade — but here’s the actual story: I found out about it in pretty much the same way as everyone else.
My wife, Maria, and I had just put the baby down for a nap — it’s a team effort, let me tell you, getting that boy to go to sleep. And so by the time Steel was napping, it had already been a while since either of us had checked our phones. But when I finally checked mine … well, there it was: A bunch of missed calls, a bunch of texts — and a news alert about how, The Pirates are set to trade Andrew McCutchen to the Giants.
Man, wow. OK.
I got on the phone with Neal Huntington, our GM, and he told me that the trade actually wasn’t set in stone yet. And credit to Neal — he’s always treated me well over the years, and this was no exception. Most GMs, they’re not going to give you any sort of a heads-up or courtesy call about a transaction. They’re not going to call you until the deal is done. But Neal, you know, he was all class. And he made me feel like I was still a guy the Pirates cared about, even as they were giving me up.
About an hour later, Neal called back to tell me that the trade had officially gone through. I can’t even explain what a wild feeling that was, and still is. It’s like, one minute I was just hanging out … and my biggest worry was if my son would fall asleep for his afternoon nap.
And then the next, it was like, my life as I knew it wouldn’t ever be the same.
I know I’m a luckier guy than most. I know that 13 years with an organization — that’s one heck of a run. And when my career is finally over, I’m sure I’ll look back on those 13 years and think to myself, you know, Man … that was impressive. That was something to be proud of. That was a pretty special thing. But right now? It’s just too hard to go there, too hard to get to that place. Right now, honestly, it just stings a little.
Right now … I’m just thinking about the Derek Jeters, and the Cal Ripkens, the guys I grew up admiring the most in baseball — and how much I’ve always wanted to be like them. How much I always wanted to be my own version of them, for this franchise … for this city. It’s almost like this word association thing: New York … Jeter. Baltimore … Ripken. You know what I mean? Those guys earned the right, earned that honor, of being synonymous with their cities — because those cities were the only places they ever called home.
And I always wanted to be that guy for Pittsburgh.
So it just stings a little, now, to know that’s not in the cards for me. That was the first thing that crossed my mind after the phone call with Neal — how I’d thought I might’ve had a chance, a real chance, to wear only one cap for all my baseball life.
And now I’m going to wear another one.
Who am I?
I thought about so many different things, in so many different ways, when I first got traded.
I thought about the end of my time with the Pirates … and took stock of the person I’ve turned into: a team leader, a young veteran, an MVP, a husband, a dad. I also thought about the beginning of my time here … and reflected on the person I was at the start: this kid who barely knew what he was doing — but knew he wanted to win.
I thought about the highs and the lows, the successes and failures. I thought about that very first season, when I got called up, and our goal was, Let’s not lose 100. (We lost 99.) I thought about that 2012 season, when we entered the All-Star break in first, and got a taste of what these fans could be like if we ever gave them a winner.
I thought about 2013, when everything, finally, came together, with a wild-card win over the Reds — the first winning season and playoff berth here in 21 years. I thought about 2015, when we won 98 games and anything seemed possible — until we ran into a good, young Cubs team, and suddenly it wasn’t. And you know what — I even thought about these last couple years, when we haven’t been winning as much … but have still been fighting, still been grinding, still been making sure that every Pirate fan gets to watch a group that’s giving it their best.
I thought about the big-picture stuff, like my legacy: How will they remember me here?
I thought about the small-picture stuff, the logistics, like finding a house … a barbershop … a few places to eat. (Giants fans, y’all got recs? Hit me up on Twitter, I need’em — @TheCUTCH22. I’m a boring eater, but I’m loyal.)
I thought about my manager, Clint Hurdle, who’s been more than just a manager — who will always be my friend and mentor, both on and off the field. Who said, in our first meeting together, that there were two things he wanted me to know the answer to: One … Can you trust me? And two … Do I care about you? And who made sure — whether we were on pace to win 95 games or 75 — that the answers to those two questions always were yes.
I thought about the personal stuff, like my family: From my wife (we met in Pittsburgh), to my son (he was born in Pittsburgh) — and how this trade is going to impact not just my life, but their lives, too.
And I thought about the emotional stuff, all of those strong feelings that rush to the surface when you experience something new: Sadness, at leaving my original baseball family. Relief, at having moved past that awkward period — where I felt like both the face of a franchise and a walking trade rumor, all at once. And even fear — as a 31 year old who has only worked for one company his entire adult life, and now is about to move to another company, and start all over.
When I first got traded, man … I thought about all of those things.
But then I also thought: Who am I?
Don’t get me wrong — I know who I am. But I guess I mean, more like … who am I now?
Because in my mind, for the rest of my life, I don’t think I’ll ever not be Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirate. For me, that’s been more than just a job title. That’s been a part — a core part — of my identity, for so long. And it’s an identity that I feel on a level so much deeper than just, like, “Who’s he play for?” Being a Pirate, that’s been a part of who I am since I was drafted — all the way back in 2005. From an 18-year-old kid, trying to make the team and fit in … to a 30-year-old man, trying to get the team over that championship hump….
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirate has just been who I am.
But at the same time: Andrew McCutchen, San Francisco Giant? I’m EXCITED about that. That’s not me doing p.r. for anyone. That’s just … genuine and real. I’m excited for this journey. Like — anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not just a baseball player. I’m also a fan. And any fan — anyone who loves and follows this game? You’ve been watching what the Giants have been doing for the last decade … in awe. This is an organization that is all about winning talent, and all about winning culture. And that’s what I’m about, too. So to say this is a good fit … it’s an understatement, man. For me to get traded to San Francisco — the fit is perfect.
And I guess that’s where those mixed emotions come from, at first. After something like this happens … it’s just so much information, in so many directions. You’ve got these memories of the past, and these ideas about the future — all passing through you at once. You’re thinking about who you’ve been … but also who you’re about to become. And you care about both of those things, deeply. It all means so much to you.
And so I think that’s where your mind goes, at first — just on instinct.
Who am I?
Am I Pittsburgh? Am I San Francisco? Am I a Pirate? Am I a Giant? Am I the MVP who knows what it takes? Am I the new guy who has a lot to figure out? Am I … any of those things?
But then it hit me.
Man — I’m all of those things.
Of course I am. Because this trade that I’m a part of … it’s just a trade. It’s just a trade. It’s not an eraser to my time as a Pirate, and it’s definitely not a goodbye to the city of Pittsburgh. My time playing for this team … it doesn’t go away, just because I’m about to go play for another. And my time living in this city — man, I don’t even have to finish that sentence. I’m not even leaving!! Come on, guys. I’m never leaving Pittsburgh. Maybe when I’m 100, they’ll drag my butt back down to Florida, snowbird-style … but until then? We’ve got a beautiful house here, and we plan on using it. Pittsburgh … it’s home. It will always be home.
So I might be shipping out for the season — and I might be excited about this new beginning — but I’m not leaving. And I might be closing the door on this stage of my life … but it’s a glass door, I promise. I’m going to look back through it, fondly and often. And I’m going to walk back through it, when the time is right. This team will always mean a lot to me.
And this city will always mean everything.
Gene J. Puskar/AP Images
But just like I was too focused for a big goodbye, during that game in September — I’ve gotta be honest: I’m worried that I’m gonna be too focused for a big hello, when I come to town with the Giants in May. I’m worried that I’ll be doing the same as I always do: treating it like any other game. And that I’ll forget to do the one thing, in that moment, that would mean the most to me out of everything.
I’ll forget to savor it.
So I’m gonna need you all to have my back again, Pirate fans.
If you see me, say hey — and maybe throw a “Cutch!” in if you’re in the mood. I’ll be the guy who looks familiar, walking around like he knows the place — with a few fresh tears, and a big ol’ smile.
With San Francisco on his shirt. And Pittsburgh in his heart.