PITTSBURGH -- It still feels like we can’t talk about Derek Shelton without calling him the “new Pirates manager,” right? He’s still waiting for his official managerial debut. We haven’t seen him write out a regular-season lineup, manage a bullpen or navigate his team out of a losing streak.
But Shelton has spent 204 days on the job since he was officially hired on Nov. 27. He’s closer to having been Pittsburgh’s manager for a year than he is to being brand new. With the season still on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelton has been at the helm for nearly seven months without managing a game that counts.
Shelton has found ways to stay busy, though. After spending the past few months at home in Florida, he recently relocated to Pittsburgh with his wife, Alison, and youngest daughter, Gianna. They’ve been exploring the city and ordering plenty of takeout from local restaurants. And he has been involved in all areas of baseball operations, most recently the Draft.
“It’s been really cool,” Shelton said Wednesday during his weekly interview on KDKA-FM. “The staff -- Steve Sanders, our assistant GM that’s in charge of scouting, and Joe DelliCarri, our scouting director -- have allowed me to be on the amateur [Draft] calls. I was able to sit in on the Zoom call for the Draft, which was really cool. I think they did a heck of a job on that.”
Shelton said it was “really awesome” that the Pirates were able to land New Mexico State middle infielder Nick Gonzales with the seventh overall pick, and he wasn’t sure their scouts expected he would still be available at that point. During his KDKA-FM appearance on Tuesday, general manager Ben Cherington confirmed as much.
“Frankly, we did not think Gonzales would be there at seven. We thought there was a chance,” Cherington told hosts Joe Starkey and Ron Cook. “We were holding out hope but weren’t really betting on it. Excited that he was.”
Shelton, who has been in regular contact with Pirates players since Spring Training was suspended, said he also has taken part in conversations with Steve Williams and the club’s professional scouting staff. Shelton has a long history as a coach, but Cherington said the manager has provided input on the club’s player development system, international scouting, amateur scouting and pro scouting while hosting calls with the club’s Minor League coaching staff.
It’s a way to keep his mind occupied and his schedule filled, sure. But it’s also an outlet for Shelton to lend his expertise and, ideally, learn about the organization beyond the big league roster. This isn’t what anybody planned or wanted, obviously, but it’s a rare opportunity for a manager to absorb this much information -- and get such a detailed look at every facet of the front office -- before stepping into the dugout for the first time.
“We have to continue to learn and grow in this game,” Shelton said. “During this time, I feel like personally I’ve been able to expand my repertoire with being able to sit in on calls and listen and learn on parts of the game that I was unfamiliar with or really didn’t know. It’s a credit to the group that they’ve let the Major League manager be a part of these things.”
The Pirates hope to soon see their Major League manager thrive in the job he was hired to do.
“I feel for Shelty, who’s worked so hard and waited so long for this opportunity,” Cherington said on KDKA-FM. “I remember the day we hired him and talking to him that night and his realization that he was going to manage his first game in Tampa [Bay], where he had worked for so long and close to where he lives and in front of family, and as part of that first road trip was going to manage in Chicago, where he grew up, before coming back to Pittsburgh.
“It was just a special feeling, hearing that and how excited he was to finally get this opportunity and be able to start it that way. It has been frustrating. I badly want to see him manage his first game. I want him to be able to do that. I’m confident he will, sooner rather than later, and it’ll be the first of many games.”