Huntington embraces challenges

Huntington embraces challenges

PITTSBURGH -- Neal Huntington still arrives in the office before the clock inside of it reads 7:30 a.m. every morning. He has for seven weeks. He will for countless weeks to come.

And hours after the sun has gone down, when that clock passes the 11:00 p.m. hour, Huntington heads back to his apartment, a place that he won't define as home, but simply as a place where, if he's lucky, he can get about six hours of sleep.

Well, so much for any type of ease-in transition for the young general manager, still in just his second month on the job.

"At this point, with an empty apartment to go to, I'd rather stay there and work than go home," says Huntington, whose family still lives in its Cleveland home. "I don't really envision this as work. I am so excited to see the changes that are going on, and to see where this team is going, that it doesn't seem like work to me."

That's a refreshing perspective for someone who has been at the center of a transition process since Pirates president Frank Coonelly introduced Huntington as the team's new general manager on Sept. 25.

Inheriting an organization in need of a substantial personnel overhaul, Huntington has ushered in a new front office regime and is nearing the completion of transitioning in the team's new coaching staff. He has spent his 51 days as the team's GM conducting organizational evaluations, processing information and leading interviews.

Looking back on the past seven weeks, Huntington now realizes that he, too, couldn't have grasped the extent to which his life would be altered. He was immediately consumed by an answering machine that records more voicemails than the ones he has time to return, as well as by countless hours of sifting through information.

"The work that goes into being a general manager is extremely extensive," said Huntington, who arrived in Pittsburgh after serving as an advanced scout for the Indians. "I think a lot of people think that we're just sitting around talking trades all the time, but that's not the case. I don't think people realize how much work goes into being a general manager."

For nearly the entirety of his time in Pittsburgh, Huntington has been one of the stable pieces in a rapidly changing organization. When, on Oct. 5, he announced that he had dismissed the team's manager, Jim Tracy, as well as key personnel staff, he set in motion a period of overlapping search processes that would consume his workload for the next month.

"I think the biggest thing that caught me off guard the most was the fact that we needed the amount of changes that we needed to make," Huntington said. "I knew we needed to make some changes, but I didn't realize the extent of the changes that were going to be necessary."

But even more daunting than simply making key hires was that, for a month, Huntington did so much of it on his own.

Yes, he leaned on other professionals in the business for advice at times. But when it came to being in Pittsburgh, many of those offices surrounding his remained vacant.

If there was a question about the vision of the team, it went to Huntington. A question about a player in the farm system? It fell on Huntington's lap.

He was the go-to guy for scouting updates and personnel questions. He answered every question. He delegated every responsibility.

There was also -- and will continue to be -- a ubiquitous pressure on Huntington to get everything right, and to get it right the first time. Fans have lost patience and aren't ready to accept mediocrity under new leadership.

Needless to say, it has been a baptism by fire for the 38-year-old, who is still admittedly learning the ropes.

"Obviously, the changes that we made led to a lot more work," Huntington said. "And for me, it led to more time because I was wearing a lot of hats for a while."

With much of the transition over, Huntington has reason to be excited. When he walked into the office on Monday morning, it was the first time that he was able to see the framework of those hours of analysis. And maybe more importantly, he was able to hand over considerable parts of his workload.

"There are 37 calls that have come in to me over the past few days that are going to go to [scouting director] Greg [Smith], 54 calls that are going to [farm director] Kyle [Stark], and about 15 calls that are going to [director of baseball operations] Bryan [Minniti]," Huntington said, shortly after naming the three to key personnel positions. "There are a lot of people who want to come to the Pittsburgh Pirates."

Through the process, however, Huntington hasn't lost perspective of the one thing that supersedes the Pirates in terms of importance.

He has made the approximately two-hour drive back to Cleveland nearly every week to spend the weekend with his family. For a few hours each week, those phone calls take a back seat to his son's ballgame, and those data analyses are packed away for a family dinner.

It's been a challenging balance, but one Huntington has learned to master as best he can.

"My wife, Becca, has been an absolutely amazing part of this," said Huntington, who will continue to make the trips back and forth until his family relocates to the Pittsburgh area after the school year. "And the kids are getting used to Dad being gone."

One who admirably refuses to ever complain about the lack of personal time, Huntington even finds a silver lining in the limited family time he has had lately. After taking trips as a scout that would have him on the road for two to three weeks at a time, Huntington appreciates the consistency he has now in knowing that he can see his wife and three children every five days.

Those visits will continue, as will the 16-hour work days. But Huntington spoke earlier in the week about feeling rejuvenated. He spoke about feeling excited and eager.

Those are feelings that have arrived as the front office transition nears an end, and as Huntington gets ready to more clearly focus on the part of the job that he enjoys the most -- putting together a winning product on the field.

With a support staff around him, Huntington is ready to get to work.

"There are times when I feel like I've been here for a very long time, and there are times when I feel like I just got here," Huntington said. "Sometimes, it's hard to believe that I've been here for only two months, but there are other times when I think about how much work we have left to do.

"Overall, though, as I look back on the man hours, it was a lot. But it was worth it. I am excited about seeing the Pittsburgh Pirates team moving forward."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.