Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Despite Painful Hip, Hurdle Still Steady as a Rock

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Despite Painful Hip, Hurdle Still Steady as a Rock

Article excerpt

ATLANTA

The tribute the Steelers paid running back Jerome Bettis before Super Bowl XL always will be high on my list of best sports memories. Teammate Joey Porter held back the other players so Bettis could run on the field alone and revel in the big-game spotlight in Detroit, his hometown. I've never seen anything like it.

The tribute the Pirates gave manager Clint Hurdle Tuesday night came close. After beating the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, to clinch their second consecutive playoff trip, the players rushed into their clubhouse at Turner Field to celebrate. They grabbed champagne bottles, formed a circle in the middle of the room and were ready to cut loose when they realized Hurdle wasn't there yet. You know about Hurdle's aching hip, which will be surgically replaced as soon as the season ends, right? You've seen him limp painfully to the mound to make pitching changes. You know he doesn't move nearly as fast as he once did.

"They weren't going to start until I got there," Hurdle said Wednesday. "That blows me away and humbles me. I was going to be the recipient of all their madness. Once I got in the middle, they wanted to start spraying and they wanted to hop. So I gave them what they wanted."

What a wonderful picture Hurdle made, a tired, broken-down 57- year-old baseball lifer bouncing up and down like a kid as his players soaked him with champagne. Together, against significant odds, they had reached the first of their goals by getting that postseason slot. It was a long, brutal ride, filled with injuries, losing streaks and a few under-performing star players, but the team endured. Hurdle endured in ways he never imagined.

What a sad picture Hurdle made Wednesday, though. He refuses to take pain-killing narcotics for his hip because he is a recovering alcoholic, going on 16 years. The pain was especially brutal after his clubhouse dance.

"I got caught up in the moment," Hurdle said. "I've got no regrets. You need to be 13 every now and then."

Hurdle should have had the surgery during the All-Star break and admits he has worried about his hip keeping him from doing his job.

"The one prayer I have every day is, 'Give me the strength and the courage to burden my pain so my pain doesn't become a burden to others,' " he said.

So far, Hurdle said, the prayer has been answered. He is not about to abandon his players now. He knows a great leader always is there for his people.

"It's a special relationship," he said. "You can't take these years for granted. I don't want the players to think I take the game for granted."

That's why Hurdle didn't want to miss a single day of the Pirates ride, whether it ended in a losing season or, more likely in his mind, another trip to the playoffs.

"I've been in situations where you can tell you just aren't good enough," he said. …

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