Pirates’ Hurdle, a UM fan, heaps praise on Harbaugh

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Bradenton, Fla. — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has been a Michigan fan for as long as he can remember.

Hurdle grew up in Big Rapids, and as a toddler, he said, he discovered the Wolverines.

“I grew up a Michigan football from the age of, my goodness, as soon as I knew there was Michigan football,” Hurdle said lightheartedly Wednesday morning in his office at McKechnie Field. “Probably as soon as it was brought to my attention the age of three or four.

“That would have been 1960. I was born in 1957, but I didn’t fully buy into the program until I was three in 1960. I pushed all my chips in then and that’s where they stay.”

He hopes to spend some time Wednesday with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who will coach first base for the Tigers when they face the Pirates this afternoon. Hurdle had hoped Harbaugh might be able to also coach first for the Pirates for an inning.

Harbaugh brought the Wolverines to IMG Academy in Bradenton this week over spring break to hold four spring practices while also allowing them non-football activities. Many of the players are expected to attend today’s baseball game.

“He’s just coaching for them,” Hurdle said, adding the organization needs approval from the commissioner’s office. “That might have created a dynamic he didn’t need to bother with. Normally, he doesn’t have much problem with controversy.

“He’s a Michigan guy, he’s coaching first base for the Tigers. I get it. We’re good.”

Hurdle and Harbaugh had a chance to talk last summer at Comerica when Harbaugh was there to throw out the first pitch.

“He had the graciousness to show up and we shared some thoughts,” Hurdle said. “He’s a guy I hope in the future to bounce some things off or just share ideas. I love looking through the lens of other people outside of my industry that have had success.”

For his part, Hurdle said he has always admired Jim Harbaugh and older brother, John, who coaches the Baltimore Ravens and has won a Super Bowl, beating his younger brother who then was coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

“I’ve watched him from afar,” Hurdle said of Jim Harbaugh. “I’ve had great respect for the Harbaugh brothers, and the first thing that attracted that respect was the respect they had for their father. I have the same kind of respect for my dad. My dad instilled a lot of the core values, team values, family values that I still hold onto dearly today.

“The synergy that comes with these men. I think I used the word dynamic to describe the personality that Jim has and the attraction. We live in a society today that attraction can be fleeting, and to have consistent attraction, there has to be some substance. And I do believe Jim is a man who has developed roots. You can’t build up until you build a foundation. When the whole situation in San Francisco was unfolding and the vacancy was left at UM, I was probably like many, I felt there were four candidates for the job. It was Jim, Jim, Jim and Jim.”

He also appreciates Harbaugh’s approach of pushing boundaries, like this spring football trip to Florida that has drawn criticism from rival conferences.

“He initiates,” Hurdle said. “There’s guys who talk about doing things, and leaders do them and other people follow. He gets up and goes. He definitely has some thoughts, and I’m sure he has a good staff that advises him and he gets some other real thoughts from other creative people, as well.

“There’s got to be a guy. There has to be one man who’s willing to take on that responsibility and accountability that regardless of external noise about how you’re doing things, you’re doing things that have value, that are done in the right fashion that you’re doing not just to improve your program but improve the quality of life of these young men you’re bringing into your program.”

Hurdle, who visited with Jon Falk, Michigan’s longtime equipment manager before the game, knows that Harbaugh’s childhood dream was to play in the majors. But Harbaugh, who played quarterback at Michigan, had a 14-year NFL career. Hurdle said he could have seen Harbaugh succeeding at baseball.

“He has that kind of body that you could project putting out on the baseball field. There’s no doubt,” Hurdle said. “The fact he played quarterback, the athleticism, the arm, the cerebral talent and some foot speed.”

Of course, Hurdle, who said that while he holds nothing against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, he still refuses to wear green or red, has fond memories of watching Harbaugh play quarterback for the Wolverines.

“A gritty, gutsy guy who would do anything to win a game,” he said.