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‘Cutch is once-in-a-generation superstar

November 15, 2013
By MATTHEW PEASLEE , The Herald-Star

Like most kids who grew up in the mid-1990s I had an affinity for light-up sneakers, Power Rangers and Dunk-A-Roos with an orange-flavored Hi-C juice box to wash down the after-school snack.

We all watched Macaulay Culkin, James Van Der Beek and John Stamos and listened to Mark McGrath, Ricky Martin and Will Smith.

In the backyard, every little leaguer would try to imitate the swing of Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.

With his chin resting on his right shoulder, hands high and powerful poise, Griffey was always calm, confident and an icon for all pre-teen boys with big league aspirations.

On the field, he was a leader. Off the field, he was a phenomenon.

Griffey was on the cover of magazines, baseball card displays and cereal boxes. He had his own clothing line, baseball equipment, even a video game.

No other athlete in the past 20 years has matched his marketability - until now.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has long been tabbed as a five-tool player. He adds a sixth tool that no player since Griffey has brought out from the woodshed.

He's the face of the sport. Being named the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player doesn't just confirm that, it complements his abilities that go way beyond his Major League-leading 9.2 Wins Above Replacement.

Just this week, McCutchen, along with Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, signed on as executive producers of a baseball/pop culture hybrid television show that will air on MTV in 2014. He's on Pittsburgh-area billboards for a jewelry store, national commercials for MLB charities and boasts a No. 22 jersey that is among the best-selling in all of American sports.

Heck, like Griffey, he was even the coverboy for a video game.

McCutchen's smile that stretches from ear-to-ear has lit up the Steel City. His volunteer efforts with Habitat for Humanity, and many other organizations including the YMCA, have been recognized in all five of his years with the Pirates. Before being awarded with baseball's highest honor, he was named the Most Valuable Volunteer in Pittsburgh.

For the second year in a row, McCutchen was the Pirates' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes one player on all 30 MLB teams for their community service involvement.

McCutchen is an ambassador to the game of baseball. He came from humble beginnings in a trailer park in rural Fort Meade, Fla. He talks about the sacrifices his parents made for him to expose his natural talents in a sport that some may argue is reserved only for America's upper class citizens.

After batting above .700 for all of his high school career, McCutchen was the 11th overall draft pick in the 2005 MLB First Year Player Draft. He was named a South Atlantic League All-Star in his first full season of professional baseball. Since being called up to Pittsburgh as a 22-year old in the middle of the 2009 season, McCutchen has hit nearly .300, with an average of 23 home runs, 28 stolen bases and 84 RBIs per season.

Nothing showed his value more than the final three months of this past season. Known for their second-half meltdowns of 2011 and 2012, McCutchen helped the Pirates go 38-31 after the All-Star break with a batting average of .339, slugging percentage of .441 and an on-base plus slugging percentage of .561.

Plus, he helped end 20 years of losing-season suffering for die-hard Pirates fans.

McCutchen knows what he means to the team, city and fanbase. He's one of the sport's good guys in a generation of juicehead multi-millionaires with a me-first attitude.

Nothing is more valuable than a good player with a good heart.

"While I will savor this award forever, this only makes me more hungry to bring a World Series championship back to Pittsburgh," he said on Twitter, as part of a tweet that was much longer than 140 characters. "It is my promise that I will continue to work hard to improve on and off the field, and I hope I can provide a positive example for youth everywhere."

If the Xbox-playing, Kindle-reading, Nutella-eating kids of today could grow the lengthy dreadlocks that McCutchen has pretty much trademarked, they would. Even after making their first playoff appearance since 1992, the Pirates are entering new territory. Led by the best homegrown player since Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh will continue to be at the top of the National League Central standings with a solid core of players blossoming into their prime. If he isn't already, McCutchen will be the league's most-coveted player and he isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

In March 2012, McCutchen signed a six-year deal which guarantees he will be a Pirate until 2017, with a club option for 2018.

Bucco Nation, he's ours. Kids of the '90s, your kids won't have to mimic a player who played in the Pacific Northwest. Little ballplayers from around the country will strive to be someone who plays in Western Pennsylvania.

In your own backyard, you have the nation's top all-around baseball player, a pop culture idol and honored humanitarian rolled into one.

Enjoy it. Andrew McCutchen is a once in a lifetime superstar.

(Matthew Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times. He can be reached at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com. Follow him on Twitter @thempeas.)

 
 

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