Andrew McCutchen on the Pirates, Football, and Where He Came From

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Pouya Dianat / Atlanta Braves / Getty Images

Last season, Andrew McCutchen led the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first winning season and playoff appearance in 21 years, picking up the National League MVP trophy in the process. How’d he cap off that performance? In the off-season, he presented a country music prize at the American Music Awards, proposed to his longtime girlfriend live on the daytime talk show Ellen, and started work on a weekly show about baseball players’ lives he’ll be producing with David Ortiz for MTV2. As for this season, the 27-year-old centerfielder is characteristically upbeat: “Our team is young and talented. I’m very confident that great things are coming.”

When you got to the Pirates, how did you deal with all that losing?
At first, I was all about getting acclimated to the majors. But once I did that, the losing really started to stink. It eats at you.

The most recent World Series featured only one African-American on either team. Why are there so few U.S.-born black players in the game today?
It’s a societal issue. Baseball has gotten very expensive. If you’re a kid and you want exposure, you can no longer just play in your town’s Little League. You have to travel and do summer leagues and showcases. It all costs so much money. I was fortunate in that I had coaches who took care of me, because they thought I could help them win. Without those people helping me, I’m not playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. No way.

You grew up in Fort Meade, Florida, in the heart of phosphate-mining country. What did you learn from your dad’s experience as a miner?
It smells. The phosphate, the sulfur – all that really, really smells. My dad welded pipes there, and he used to come back soaked. But seeing him leave early, then come home late at night tired, dark from all the phosphate, dirty … He made it clear that nothing comes easy in life. That helps me now, and it’ll help me in the future. I saw how hard he worked, and I tried to copy it. Still do.

You were one of the top football recruits in Florida. If you had two months to train, could you hang with the Steelers?
I think if you gave me a couple of weeks, I would be able to hold my own. Sports have changed so much; it’s sad. Before my time, guys like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders played two sports all the way to a high level. That’s unheard of now. Coaches demand you devote yourself to one sport. It takes the fun out. Playing different sports helped me. I was a wide receiver, and running down a ball in the outfield gap is like running the post route in football. One crosses into the other.

You said it was cooler being on the cover of the video game MLB 13: The Show than winning MVP. Why?
Growing up, you remembered the people on the covers of the games. If you had asked me in 1994, “Who was the MVP of the National League?,” I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. But if you need to know who was on the cover of Nintendo 64 that year, I’m your man: It was Ken Griffey, Jr. The MVP is a prestigious award. But I never would have thought I’d be on the cover of a video game. That’s amazing to me.

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