Infielder McDonald just what Bucs need for bench
Veteran's patience, defensive ability enthusiastically welcomed by skipper Hurdle
BRADENTON, Fla. -- John McDonald checked into the Pirates' clubhouse, checked out his incongruous No. 80 uniform and described what his role will be -- and why he is so well-suited for it.
Listening to the 38-year-old veteran was eerie. His words exactly echoed what manager Clint Hurdle had pined for last summer.
"It's an extremely tough job to do, to sit for a couple of weeks, and then go out and play defense in the eighth inning and be perfect," McDonald said. "But the challenge of that is something I think about all the time. And it's something I want."
With the 2013 Bucs, it is something McDonald will get. He has played 125-plus games at each infield position, save first base. Shortstop Clint Barmes needs a break, or third baseman Pedro Alvarez needs to sit out a nasty lefty? Page McDonald -- who will also be Mr. Double-Switch.
"My mindset is, it does not matter if you don't play me for a while. I want to go in when no one else wants to go in. I'm never sitting there worrying about the fact I'm not playing. It's OK by me. I'm in the big leagues, and there is no other place that you want to be, playing baseball. And trying to help my team win."
So when general manager Neal Huntington acquired McDonald a couple days ago from Arizona for a player to be named, Hurdle got the patient veteran he wanted to see on his bench. While acknowledging McDonald's persona, however, Hurdle knows that is not enough, and touched on it in his first conversation with him.
"All that other stuff is great," Hurdle said to McDonald. "But can you still play?"
That broke up McDonald, which was all Hurdle had wanted.
"Sometimes," the manager said, "you've just got to lighten the mood."
OK. But can the 38-year-old McDonald still play?
As good as he has, which might seem as light praise for someone who has not had more than 353 at-bats in any of his 14 seasons. But McDonald has always been the do-everything type. He is the latter-day Ducky Schofield, the 1960 Pirates hero who averaged 70 games in a 19-year career.
Since 2009, McDonald has committed a total of 11 errors while playing 272 games at four different positions.
Huntington -- Cleveland's farm director when McDonald broke in with the turn-of-the-century Indians -- portrayed in candid terms the appeal of McDonald, who has already forced Ivan De Jesus out of Major League camp and also has Josh Harrison's status in jeopardy.
"Josh and Ivan have done some good things in camp," Huntington said, "but they're nowhere near the defensive ability of John McDonald."
Knowing all spring there was no room for him in the D-backs' overcrowded infield, the New England native and resident is stoked that the inevitable move brought him closer to home.
"I was pretty aware something would happen with too many middle infielders in Arizona, and when this opportunity came up as a possibility, I started to get excited right away," McDonald said. "Watching from the other side what this club did last year was fun. To be part of this franchise, the history of it ... it was fun just to walk in here and see the uniforms."
As for his own No. 80? McDonald wore No. 16 with the D-backs, and for seven years prior to that was No. 6 in Toronto.
"As long as I got a spot in the locker room, it's all good," said McDonald. "When you wear a Major League uniform, there are no negatives. I try to instill that in younger players, that they should appreciate putting on one of these 30 uniforms."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.