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Cutch proud of Bucs' status as contender

National League MVP finalist vows the Pirates will continue to improve

Special to

PITTSBURGH -- On Nov. 14 he'll learn whether he joins Roberto Clemente as the seventh Pirates player to win a National League MVP Award, but on Thursday Andrew McCutchen stood in the middle of an old fire hall that's been transformed into a shrine for the legend.

McCutchen was visiting the Roberto Clemente Museum to host his first fund-raiser in Pittsburgh, a benefit for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh. The three-time NL All-Star and finalist for the 2013 NL MVP couldn't think of a better venue for hosting charitable work.

"It was only fitting; I thought it definitely should be here," McCutchen said. "It definitely means a lot to me, and it's definitely great to be able to come here. This is only my second time being able to come here. It's great being able to host it here with the person that he was."

The revered Clemente died in a 1972 plane crash while delivering aid to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua just months after collecting his 3,000th -- and final -- hit. But another part of his hero status in Pittsburgh is that he was a big part of two World Series championship teams.

McCutchen hasn't accomplished that with this new generation of Pirates, but the 2013 squad came closer than any Bucs team had in 21 years.

The Pirates went 94-68 and won the NL Wild Card Game before falling to the Cardinals in five games in the NL Division Series.

"With the World Series, when we all saw the Cardinals there, it just made us feel like we could have been that team," he said. "That could have been us, too, because we showed we were a World Series contender. We took them five games. We got the short end of the stick, but at the same time, if we would have won that game, we could have been them.

"Now we know we have a team that could have been a contender. That's something we can build on."

The Pirates snapped their streak of losing seasons at 20 in large part because of McCutchen. The center fielder, who turned 27 last month, batted .317 with a .380 on-base percentage and .489 slugging percentage, 21 home runs, 84 RBIs and 97 runs. For his efforts he was named a Silver Slugger Award winner on Wednesday for the second consecutive year.

McCutchen said on Wednesday that he "cherished" the honor and joked that he needed to clear room in his office for the award.

"It's definitely great," he said, "because this will be my second one, and thinking back to being in the Minor Leagues all the way through your first few years in the big leagues and the numbers I was putting up, I knew they could be a lot better and I knew I could improve. And to have this award, I am honored to have it. I'm doing the things that I knew that I could do, and I'm just going to try to continue to improve."

McCutchen vows that likewise, the Pirates also will keep getting better. In each of the past three years, the Bucs won more games than they did the previous season, gradually adding 37 wins since 2010.

McCutchen lauded the organization's commitment to bringing winning baseball back to Pittsburgh.

"We've proved that the last couple of years, so we will continue to get better as a team," he said. "I feel there's nothing left to prove; I feel like we are where we need to be, and we are going to continue to get better as a ballclub.

"The guys [in the front office] are going to continue to do their job to make this ballclub a better ballclub and get us to that next level. They showed that this year, and I feel they are going to show that again."

Hot Stove season has begun, the free-agent market open. Among the prominent Pirates whose contracts have expired are pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Marlon Byrd.

McCutchen would love to have those two back, as well as the other pieces of the recently completed successful season, but he won't fret if they're not.

Now that the Pirates have established themselves as winners, McCutchen said, and are on the way up, the franchise will become a popular destination for free agents.

"I sense that people want to be here now," he said. "It's not just people anymore who want to get here to just get by. People now know we have a playoff-contending team, so they will come here because they want to be here."

Chris Adamski is a contributor to

Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen