For McCutchen, Pittsburgh has always been home

January 29th, 2023

PITTSBURGH --  never truly left Pittsburgh.

McCutchen remained a Pittsburgh resident even as he worked for employers over the last half-decade. McCutchen and Pittsburgh are -- and will forever be -- inextricably linked. But for McCutchen, remaining here came with its own unforeseeable challenges.

“I pass [PNC Park] a lot over the years because I live here,” McCutchen said. “There were times where I would drive by it and I couldn’t even look at it just because of the simple fact knowing I can’t be here; I’m not there. There are times where it was difficult to know that I live here but I don’t play here.”

Now, McCutchen can admire PNC Park as much as he likes.

“I don’t have to worry about that this year,” McCutchen said. “I can look at it and know, ‘Shoot, I’m going to be going back there during the season.’”

The offseasons in Pittsburgh weren’t the only months that proved challenging for McCutchen since his departure.

Before being traded to San Francisco, McCutchen spent nine years with the Pirates, and 13 years with the organization. That familiarity provided comfort. Over the last five seasons, by contrast, McCutchen spent time with four different teams with four different cultures in four different cites.

As McCutchen stood outside PNC Park’s Club 3000, his back to the city’s skyline, he pondered the lasting effects of that whiplash.

"I'd be lying to you if I said it didn't affect me. I'm sure it did. I can't necessarily say, ‘Yeah, it did,' but it's a different atmosphere," he said. "You have to adjust to things you aren't used to. You have to get used to certain things. You adjust as much as you can -- that's what we do as human beings; we're adjustors to our environment. But I'm sure it did affect me in some way, shape or form.

“I had a newborn son when I left here. I didn't know what to expect.

"I had never been on another ballclub. When you look at all those things, you have a short amount of time to process it. I'm sure it does mess with your brain, whatever else. But to me, I'm like, 'I'm fine, I'm blessed,' knowing deep down I'm probably not. You have to do what you have to do to accept the reality of what's happening to you. You have to go out, accept it and play your best ball.”

McCutchen shared that last season -- his lone season with the Brewers -- was the first time he felt “OK” coming to PNC Park as a visiting player. In 2023, however, McCutchen won’t have to navigate that whirlwind of emotions.

McCutchen’s excitement doesn’t derive solely from a return to the familiar; he’s plenty excited about the team, too.

With Milwaukee, McCutchen witnessed the Pirates’ potential firsthand. McCutchen cited Milwaukee’s inability to beat Pittsburgh as one of the reasons that the Brewers missed out on a Wild Card spot. While the Pirates lost 100 games last season, McCutchen sees a much better team.

“People can look at the record and say, ‘Oh, they lost 100 games,' but I don't believe in that,” McCutchen said. “Just because it says that doesn't mean they're a 100-loss ballclub. I truly believe that they're not. If that was the case, they wouldn't [have beaten] us. They wouldn't [have beaten] the Yankees. It's a club that can do it. It's just about being consistent.”

During his introductory news conference last week, McCutchen said that the Pirates’ current core is better than of the early 2010s. Pittsburgh might be in a similar stage to that of the ’11, ’12 squads, but McCutchen emphasized that he wants this generation to forge its own identity.

“They’re here to create their own legacy, and I’m here to facilitate and to help be a part of that new era and the new winning,” McCutchen said.

When asked about his own legacy, McCutchen said he doesn’t have anything to prove. McCutchen knows what he accomplished during his first stint with the Pirates. The fans know, too.

He has not given much thought to how fans will react during Pittsburgh’s home opener. On Friday, manager Derek Shelton confirmed that McCutchen will be in the starting lineup for the Pirates’ first home game.

McCutchen downplayed the impending reception, noting that he’s been met with applause whenever he returns. That may be true, but it’s easy to envision McCutchen receiving a hero’s welcome in his first plate appearance on April 7. While he may have worn different uniforms, he’s the star who never truly left.