Cervelli embracing opportunity to start for Bucs
When Francisco Cervelli made his rounds at PirateFest shortly before Christmas, he was well-dressed, well-spoken and well-received. The 28-year-old catcher -- who was acquired from the New York Yankees last November -- moved about the David L. Lawrence Convention Center with a smile on his face as he exchanged pleasantries with fans, members of the media and several of his new teammates.
"This is amazing, especially for me. I'm new," Cervelli said as he surveyed the scene. "I'm getting to know people and they're getting to know me a little bit."
And a lot more of that will be going on in the months to come.
Cervelli, who once backed up Russell Martin in the Bronx, now figures to replace him as Pittsburgh's starting catcher, with Martin now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Cervelli originally signed with the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2003, and he has spent at least part of the past seven seasons in the big leagues.
Leaving the only organization he's ever known after 12 years wasn't easy, but Cervelli is embracing his opportunity with the Pirates and wants to prove himself worthy of the slot into which he's been penciled.
"You're going to a new team and you have to show everything you've got all over again," Cervelli said. "But I don't want anyone to give it to me for free. I just want to earn my job. That's it. Every Spring Training, I've had to go and fight for a job. This one is not going to be an exception."
This is the second time Cervelli has had the opportunity to become a starter because of Martin signing elsewhere as a free agent. It also happened in 2013 when Martin joined the Pirates, but that chance didn't go well. Cervelli was the Yankees' Opening Day catcher, but he got hit with a foul tip that fractured his throwing hand in late April and wound up missing the remainder of the season.
"So many catchers you see with the hand outside [rather than behind their back] and nothing happens," he said. "But it happened to me. There's nothing I could do about it. But right now I'm healthy and I'm going to play hard like always."
Cervelli has somewhat jokingly referred to Martin as "my angel" -- because of the opportunities Martin's departures have created for him. And Cervelli -- who has been hampered by a variety of injuries in recent years, not just the fractured hand -- believes the result will be better this time around than it was in 2013.
"I don't think it's always going to be a nightmare, you know?" he said. "Some people learn one way. Other people learn another way. I've had to learn with hits and collisions, and whatever. So I take it. This is the sport that I love. I've spent half my life doing this, and I'm never going to give up."
Pirates pitchers and catchers will report to Bradenton, Fla., to begin Spring Training on Feb. 18, and Cervelli knows he has a lot of work ahead of him to become familiar with a new pitching staff.
"Spring Training is for working and I'm going to have enough time to learn from the guys," he said. "The psychology thing is the most important thing for a catcher. You have to know each guy -- their personality, what they do, what they've got that day. I put a lot of energy in that.
"They've got to be my best friends. When I was with the Yankees, my pitchers were everything to me. Talking to them, trying to get to know each guy's personality. I also watch videos and do my homework, but I think the most important thing is the mental part -- just making them feel comfortable throwing to me."
Pitcher A.J. Burnett, who spent the 2012-13 seasons with Pittsburgh, has rejoined the Pirates for '15 -- this time as a free agent. He and Cervelli were teammates for a few years in New York, including the 2010 campaign when Cervelli started a career-high 80 games.
"I threw to him quite a bit, actually," Burnett said. "He brings a lot of fire and a lot of energy to this team. I think it was a lot stronger pickup than a lot of people are expecting. He's got a chance to play every day here, and he hasn't had that chance."
And Cervelli plans on making the most of it.