Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates special instructor Kent Tekulve checks out new baseballs during practice before an intrasquad game Monday, March 2, 2015, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
BRADENTON, Fla. — Kent Tekulve wasn't supposed to be in spring training camp with the Pirates this year. He wasn't supposed to be anywhere.
Tekulve, a 1979 World Series hero who will turn 68 on Thursday, had heart transplant surgery Sept. 5. The next morning, he awakened in the hospital and embraced his second chance at life.
“I'm able to look ahead again,” Tekulve said the other day while basking in Florida sunshine. “It changes everything — what's important, the way you look at things. I call this the bonus round. I am now in the bonus round because I wasn't supposed to be here. None of this was supposed to happen.”
When Tekulve's health began to deteriorate last year, he had to step away from his role as a studio analyst for Root Sports Pittsburgh. After receiving a new heart, Tekulve was surprised by how quickly his old life — especially his baseball life — returned.
“Everything that's happened to this point has been totally a shock to me,” Tekulve said. “I was out of the hospital in seven days. I was back at the ballpark in 28 days. Well in advance of spring training, I knew I was going to be ready to come back here to do this again and do all the other activities I do in Florida during the winter.”
In mid-January, Tekulve and his son eased his RV out of a snowy driveway in Pittsburgh and drove to the Gulf coast. He participated in Pirates fantasy camp. When spring training began two weeks ago, Tekulve resumed his role as a special pitching instructor.
“It's amazing,” said Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, who tutors infielders. “It's just good to see him up and around, like nothing ever happened. It's great to have him back.”
Monday morning, before the Black-Gold scrimmage at McKechnie Field, Tekulve was perched on a stool behind the right field bullpen. He peered through the screen as pitchers warmed up, offering snippets of advice.
Inside the huge, new facility at McKechnie Field is a clubhouse the High-A Bradenton team will use during the Florida State League season. For now, the room houses the Pirates' coaches and special instructors.
“Every time you get the old-timers together, there's going to be talk about the old days,” Mazeroski said.
“It's just like we've turned back the clock,” Tekulve said. “You pretty much go back to picking on each other and doing all the things you did when we were players.”
Manager Clint Hurdle believes it's important for guys like Teke and Maz, pivotal players in the franchise's glory days, to spend time with the current players.
“These guys pull for us all year long,” Hurdle said. “They're connected to the team. They want us to win as badly as they wanted to win when they wore the uniform. So it is special.”
Tekulve gives whatever he can to the guys on the field. And he takes a little something, too.
“When you're out there watching them do what you used to do when you were much younger — doing all the same drills, throwing all the same sides — it makes you think like you're still that young,” Tekulve said.
“For me, that's the biggest blessing of the whole thing. Being around baseball, I never really thought about how old I was or the aches and pains. Just like when I was 20 or 30, I've always thought, ‘What's going to happen today? What's ahead.'”
Tekulve paused and tapped his chest.
“You've got to temper it, though, and realize you're not really 20 or 30,” he said, smiling. “But you can dream.”
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