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Front office handles tough questions at PirateFest

PITTSBURGH -- Saturday afternoon's Ask Pirates Management session with at-large fans was slightly more confrontational than it had been Friday night, when season-ticket holders comprised the audience grilling club president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle.

Fans asked provocative questions about the team's player-development philosophy, and the role of controversial military-style training in it. The three club representatives were prepared with patient, thoughtful and detailed responses, occasionally impressively so.

For instance, one gentleman cited the apparent contradiction of stressing player-development yet having it run by two men -- assistant GM Kyle Stark and Larry Broadway, director of Minor League operations -- "with no experience in player development."

After defending the qualifications of Stark and Broadway, Huntington asked the fan for his choice of MLB's best player-development program. When he quickly picked Tampa Bay, Huntington said, without skipping a beat, "Mitch Lukevics, who runs their system, had no prior experience with that. Some people have training in their background, others get very good at it on the job."

When "that Navy SEALS training" was brought up, Coonelly responded, to loud applause: "We'll never apologize for any affiliation with the United Stated military in our mental conditioning."

"That said," Coonelly continued, "we don't actually have SEALS people involved, just some of their techniques that have been used with overwhelming success by numerous industries and athletic teams. We're teaching Minor Leaguers how to push through the grind, and somehow that's a bad thing? We want the next generation of Pittsburgh Pirates to be able to get through a 162-game season and bring the championship that you deserve back to this city."