PITTSBURGH -- As Derek Shelton sat on the dais in PNC Park’s interview room, he couldn’t help but notice that nearly his entire staff had temporarily abandoned their pregame responsibilities and congregated on the other side of the room, wanting to be there for their manager’s moment.
Shelton had already processed the news that he and the club had reached an extension beyond the 2023 season. But as he looked at his staff, he could not prevent the tears in his eyes, the quiver in his voice, the tremble in his talk. In that moment, he realized what this all meant.
“I walk in, and they’re all back there,” Shelton said. “It’s for your family. You work your [butt] off to get this job. Yeah, it’s emotional.”
A moment like this is never guaranteed for a manager. There are no shortage of instances when a manager leads a team during the rebuilding process only to be let go before they have the opportunity to see the product of their struggle. Shelton, however, did not doubt that this day would come.
“I think the positivity that we’ve tried to portray as a staff and the consistency that we’ve tried to portray as a staff has been really important,” Shelton said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel and we’re moving in the right direction, and that’s really important to me.”
Pirates general manager Ben Cherington, who announced the news prior to Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Reds, did not reveal the specifics of Shelton’s extension, nor did he share whether there was anything brewing regarding his own possible extension. What Cherington did share, however, was his excitement.
“He’s worked tirelessly for over three years now to help put us in a stronger position to win,” Cherington said. “All of the work that goes into building our culture -- the way we prepare for games, the way we treat each other, the relationships that are built -- I think we’re starting to see the fruits of that labor.”
The timing of this extension coincides with the Bucs’ 15-7 start, their best beginning to a season in decades. The early success, however, had no impact on the deal. Cherington said the extension talks began during Spring Training; about a week ago, the deal came together. With pen put to paper, Shelton can continue the process of keeping the good vibes rolling. He will not, however, be sleeping any easier at night.
"Pressure is not even close to being off," Shelton said. "Pressure just started."
Shelton and the Pirates have, without question, braved through tough times. They lost 100 games in back-to-back seasons in 2021 and ‘22. The roster churn, at times, has been dizzying. They’ve made headlines on several occasions for unflattering reasons. Amid those struggles, Shelton maintained equanimity in the clubhouse. On Saturday, Bryan Reynolds echoed a sentiment that many in the team shared.
“He’s the right guy to lead us,” Reynolds said. “He was the same guy even though we were losing 100 games a year. There was no panic. There was no personality switch, which can’t be easy. I know that as a player, it’s hard to show up and be the same guy, but he did it.”
“I think we knew there would be difficult days, but it doesn’t make it any easier when you get into ‘em,” Cherington said. “Certainly part of my faith and confidence in him was watching how he responded to that. Hopefully, we helped each other through it a bit. He always responded with determination, with a fresh, positive outlook, with a focus to control what we can control going forward. I’ve learned from him. Hopefully, he’s learned from me and we continue to learn from each other.”
Shelton’s job extends beyond the lineups he constructs and the decisions he makes. Cherington iterated that Shelton isn’t just the manager of the Major League team but an important leader in baseball operations, describing the skipper as an “elite communicator.” Following the news breaking on Saturday, coaches and players praised Shelton without hesitation, not just as a manager, but as a person.
“I think he knows his players well,” said third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes. “He knows [who] he can joke around with and who he has to keep it short and sweet with. For me, he’s been awesome, whether it’s something I’ve had going on off the field or on the field, we always check in.”
To Shelton, Pittsburgh has become a second home over the last three-odd years. He won’t incorporate the word “yinzer” into his vernacular lest he anger All-Star reliever David Bednar and bench coach Don Kelly, both of whom hail from the area. He expressed love for the city. He expressed love for the community. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to keep calling this place home.
“I’m very proud to be here,” Shelton said. “And [I’m] very proud that I’m going to continue to be here."