All-Star in his hometown? Indescribable for Bednar

July 18th, 2022

Champagne wouldn’t suffice. Only the hometown elixir would be appropriate for the hometown kid.

David Bednar, Pittsburgh’s reliever extraordinaire who hails from Mars, Pa., is in the city of stars. And manager Derek Shelton, well cognizant of Bednar’s lifetime connection to the team and to the city eschewed the bubbly and gifted Bednar a case of I.C. Light, a beverage intertwined into city’s fabric. For the Pirates fan turned Pirates All-Star rep, it’s an achievement he’s still trying to properly articulate.

“I wish I had better words to describe it,” Bednar said. “It’s special. It’s unbelievable to do it not only period, but to do it for the team I grew up watching. I’ve got so much pride for the city, for this team. It’s really awesome. I don’t really know how else to describe it.”

That Bednar is in this position, set to appear in his first All-Star Game, is as amazing as it is improbable.

Bednar wasn’t a prep stud and he didn’t attend a major Division I program, spending three years at Lafayette College of the Patriot League. He pitched well, but wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. He was selected in the 35th round of the 2016 Draft with the 1,044th overall selection by the Padres. Though never considered a top prospect, Bednar climbed through San Diego’s system.

Upon being called up, Bednar couldn’t replicate the success that he had in the Minors. In 17 1/3 scattered innings with the Padres in 2019-20, Bednar posted a 6.75 ERA. In January 2021, Bednar was shipped to the Pirates as a piece -- not the piece -- of the three-team Joe Musgrove trade. Bednar was going home, and it was at home where he blossomed.

In his first season in black and gold, Bednar emerged as a staple in the bullpen. Across 60 2/3 innings, Bednar posted a 2.23 ERA and 2.69 FIP. This season, Bednar has stepped into the closer role and recorded a career-high 16 saves. Bednar grew up watching Pirates closers such as Matt Capps, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon. He’s joined that lineage, and he’s doing his part to carry the torch.

“It really is crazy,” Bednar said. “I think back to everybody that’s helped me up to this point. I didn’t do it by myself. To have all the support, and to continue to have all the support of my friends, family and coaches I’ve had coming up. It really has been a crazy couple of days, but it has been really cool to just see everything unfold.”

Said pitching coach Oscar Marin: “That’s a cool story, just how everything has kind of happened. Just the work he puts into being as good as he is. He’s not just showing up and chucking stuff over the plate. My man is putting in work.”

Bednar has the high-90s, four-seam fastball that most closers have in their bag, but he features a pair of exceptional secondary pitches in his curveball and splitter, the latter of which he learned from a former All-Star.

At Padres instructionals shortly after he was drafted, Bednar was toying around with a splitter. Hideo Nomo, who was a special assistant, had one heck of a splitter back in the day. So who better to learn from?

“Our pitching coordinator [Eric Junge] was like, ‘Hey, if you’re trying to throw one, why don’t you go throw with Hideo Nomo? He had a pretty good one,’” Bednar recalled. “I was like, ‘Hell yeah. Why not?’”

With the splitter in tow, Bednar has evolved into “The Renegade,” a nickname that’s an homage to his Pittsburgh roots.

The moniker plays off Styx’s song of the same name, one that the Steelers have used as a hype song for about two decades. It’s the song that blares throughout PNC Park when Bednar enters a game. Come Tuesday, maybe he’ll have the chance to hear that tune at Dodger Stadium.

“I’m looking forward to it, just to soak it all in and absorb every second. I hope it doesn’t go too fast and I’m able to slow it down,” Bednar said. “I just want to be in the moment and enjoy it for what it is, because you never know. I’m very fortunate to be in this position, and I want to enjoy every second of it.”