Outfielders Jason Bay and Tike Redman are a study in contrasts. Bay, a sturdy power hitter, grew up in the western Canadian hamlet of Trail, B.C.; Redman, a wiry, line-drive-hitting speedster, was raised on a farm in rural Duncanville, Ala. Bay's an introvert who's a regular reader of Wine magazine; Redman is a brash motormouth who's addicted to PlayStation. Bay often listens to Andrea Bocelli as part of his pregame ritual; Redman prefers Tupac.
In a clubhouse littered with middling minor leaguers and journeymen, Bay, 25, and Redman, 27, do have something in common: Together they are the foundation on which the Pirates hope to rebuild a franchise that's suffered through 11 straight losing seasons. During that stretch makeovers in Pittsburgh have been seen as frequently as they are on Bravo, and 2003 was no exception: Since last year's All-Star break the Pirates, who have lost $30 million since the 2001 opening of PNC Park, have jettisoned a slugging third baseman ( Aramis Ramirez), the steadiest pitcher in the rotation ( Jeff Suppan) and three outfielders who have been All-Stars ( Brian Giles, Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders). Pittsburgh will try to cobble together a winner with a $35 million payroll, down $20 million from last year.
"I was in uniform [as a Pirate] the last time we had a winning season. Nobody loses more sleep over that than me," says 45-year-old manager Lloyd McClendon, who has overseen a modest increase in victories—from 62 to 72 to 75—over the past three seasons. "For us to continue to improve, we need our young players to grow up fast. Most places you can get your feet wet a little, but here you've got to dive right in."
Ready for the plunge are Bay and Redman, who, despite having played only 83 games between them with Pittsburgh last year, entered this spring with starting jobs secured. Bay will hit in the middle of the order and play leftfield, while Redman will bat leadoff and patrol center. They earned those spots by nailing their late-season auditions in 2003. Bay, acquired from the Padres in an Aug. 27 trade for Giles, hit .291 in 27 games and revealed a tantalizing glimpse of his power in a mid-September game, homering twice and driving in eight runs. He also stole 23 bases in 91 games with Triple A Portland last year, and McClendon touts him as a 30-30 threat. "What impresses me most about Jason is that he's constantly making adjustments at the plate," says the skipper. "He's young, but he's one of the smartest hitters we have."
Redman, a Pirates fifth-round pick in 1996, began the season in Triple A Nashville before being called up in August. In 56 games he batted .330 and scored 36 runs; his 76 hits over the last two months tied the Blue Jays' Vernon Wells for most in the majors in that span. Bay and Redman have quickly developed into strong fielders as well. Redman's improvement in center has been most profound; he says he embarrassed himself with his shoddy glove work during his first extended stint in the majors (37 games), in 2001. "I was scared out there in the field, constantly thinking, Don't hit it to me, and that if I made one mistake, I was going back to the minors," says Redman. "Really, the only difference between the me now and the me back then is that the fear's gone. Last year was the first time I truly believed I belonged with this team."
Big things are expected from Bay and Redman, but McClendon's highest expectations are for his young staff, which is anchored by two hard-throwing—if underachieving—righthanders, Kris Benson and Kip Wells. Pitching coach Spin Williams has been working with them to add more off-speed options to their repertoires. The rotation's biggest surprise could be lefty Oliver Perez, who was acquired from San Diego in the Giles trade. "With him, it's all about getting his mechanics together," says Williams, who this spring was salivating over Perez's 96 mph fastball and wicked slider. "Every pitch he throws seems to be thrown at a different arm angle, and we're working to get that changed. Once that happens, watch out."
The Pirates will be tested early: Nine of their first 22 games are against division heavyweights Chicago and Houston. McClendon, though, isn't concerning himself with the stiff competition in his division and where his team will finish. "All we can do," he says, "is put the blinds down, do the best we can and keep going forward."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]