Skipper's history with Hurdle, organization enhances Rangers-Pirates series
By Richard Justice
Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister says he's sure to feel a swirl of emotions on Friday, when he looks across the diamond and sees all those familiar faces wearing the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Twenty-nine years of my life," Banister said. "That's how long I wore that uniform. I love the organization. I love everything it stands for. There are a lot of ties."
And there's that manager he'll be going against, Clint Hurdle.
Hurdle was hired by the Pirates after the 2010 season, and one of the first big decisions he made was to make Banister -- a career Minor League player, coach and manager -- his bench coach.
This weekend at Globe Life Park, the Bucs and Rangers will play three games. And these two men who stood side by side for four seasons will be competing against one another for the first time.
"It's going to be a little bit strange to look over into that dugout," Banister said. "Look, it's going to be emotional for me. Probably a little added -- I don't want to say anxiety. Let's call it energy."
In taking a chance on someone he did not know well, Hurdle, 58, did two things for Banister, 52.
First, Hurdle put Banister in place to be part of Pittsburgh's renaissance at the Major League level. When the team made the playoffs in 2013, it was the franchise's first postseason appearance in 21 years. Second, Hurdle positioned Banister to land his own Major League managing gig.
Hurdle became close to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels when he was the club's hitting coach in 2010. That was the year Texas went to the World Series for the first time, and Hurdle had a huge role with both his personality and his work with hitters.
When Daniels began looking for someone to run his club in the wake of Ron Washington's resignation in September 2014, Hurdle's work ethic, expertise and people skills were his prototype. Hurdle's recommendation of Banister carried weight.
Banister is appreciative.
"I'm lucky to have learned from him," he said.
Hurdle is a big man with a booming voice and a significant presence in every room he enters. He's also got an essential decency that plays well during the grind of a long season.
"Look, his communication and leadership skills are the best," Banister said. "His preparation he puts into his craft is incredible. It's the presence he has. It's the environment he creates. It's who he is as a person. His intelligence. His ability to motivate. It's 24/7 with him. It never stops."
Since Hurdle and Banister last worked together, Hurdle has led the Pirates to a third straight postseason appearance, while Banister won the 2015 American League Manager of the Year Award for his work in helping the Rangers make a last-to-first rise in the AL West.
"It's not going to be a kumbaya," Hurdle said of the teams meeting. "That was done over the winter, when I was fortunate enough to go out there and share in his award presentation for Manager of the Year. We're going in to play baseball, with a focus to beat the Rangers. There won't be lunch or breakfast, none of that."
Both men have seen the game from a lot of different angles. Hurdle has been in baseball for 42 years as everything from a high-profile Draft choice to managing the Rockies for eight seasons and the Bucs for seven.
"I think when you've been good and you've been beat down, when you've been in this street fight, it hones your senses," Banister said. "That's Clint. He pays attention to everything. I respect what he stands for, what he has done and what he will continue to do."
Banister was a 25th-round Draft pick of the Pirates in 1986, and he was with the organization in a variety of roles until the Rangers came calling. In a way, the Bucs hold a place in his heart.
"I'll be proud of him," Hurdle said. "Once the game starts, I think we'll let all that stuff go and play some baseball."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.