Shelton talks home opener, early schedule

April 8th, 2021

Last season, when Pirates manager Derek Shelton toed the third-base line at PNC Park during the pregame ceremonies for the club’s home opener, it was a special feeling for the first-time Major League manager.

But as he walked across the Clemente Bridge shortly after dawn on Thursday, heading to PNC Park for the homer opener in his second season, it hit him just the same. The lights were already on at the park as he arrived. Preparations were being made for fans to arrive. It felt like things were closer to being back to normal.

“It was goosebumps, man. It's cool,” Shelton said. “It's something [that] I think I sat at this podium and talked about two years ago, and [I] waited a little bit longer than I expected. I’m excited to be here in front of our fans and to get going."

Not only are the fans back, but Shelton’s family -- his wife, two of his kids and his parents -- also were in attendance on Thursday. Though he’s formally experienced a home opener already, this one feels more real than before.

“I do feel like this is our first home opener,” Shelton said.

After 66 games as a manager, Shelton will have his first live home crowd on hand to try to kick-start a Pirates team that entered Thursday having lost five in a row after winning on Opening Day against the Cubs.

With so few games under his belt, Shelton said he still feels like a rookie manager in some ways. But because of the circumstances that led to the shortening of his first season, he feels like he’s had a crash course in some areas of managing a team.

“It's taught me to listen better. It's taught me to learn better,” Shelton said. “It's definitely taught me to be patient, because you wait a long time for this job, and then you go through what we went through last year in terms of two Spring Trainings and then a 60-game season.”

Now, the annual event has arrived with a particular sense of joy given the arrival of a more “normal” normal. In good spirits on Thursday morning before the festivities began, Shelton made a familiar pitch that he made on Opening Day in Chicago -- with a slight twist.

“Opening Day should be a national holiday,” Shelton said. “Maybe the home opener is the day that should be the national holiday. Everybody gets off school in Pittsburgh.”

Scheduled relief
The Pirates will have an off-day on Friday, which marks the second of five in April. In every other month, the club has only three off-days, with the exception of the All-Star break in July.

While Shelton said that it would be more helpful to have that relief later in the summer, when the grind of a 162-game season begins to wear on the players’ bodies, he still finds it helpful in a couple of ways.

The first: Fine-tuning the rotation. The Pirates have had some pitchers like Chad Kuhl and Trevor Cahill who have needed to be built up, and they’re also trying to build up some relievers to potentially serve as starters in the coming months.

The other: Weather. Typically, in Pittsburgh and other cities in the National League Central like Milwaukee and Chicago, the temperatures in April can be low, the wind can kick up and snow can even sometimes be a threat. However, outside of near-freezing temperatures on Opening Day at Wrigley Field, the Pirates have had it good with the forecasts.

“We've been very fortunate with the weather,” Shelton said. “Usually, these off-days are built [in] because of weather. … Today, it's supposed to be beautiful, so I wish we were just continuing to play.”

Up next
After the off-day on Friday, the Pirates will continue their first homestand of the season with a 6:35 p.m. ET game on Saturday against the Cubs at PNC Park. Mitch Keller will try to clean up his delivery and command after being forced to throw 77 pitches over three innings in his season debut vs. the North Siders on Sunday. Zach Davies will oppose Keller on the bump in a game that will be broadcast live on AT&T SportsNet and MLB.TV.