Hurdle remembers time managing Bills, being at Bowman

PITTSBURGH — It has been awhile since Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has stepped foot inside of Bowman Field in Williamsport.

In fact, if you want to be exact on just how long, it’s been 26 years now.

Hurdle’s wife, Karla, is a Muncy native and he has been to Muncy and the surrounding areas since to visit her family, but being at Bowman Field? Not since he managed one somewhat forgettable season for the Williamsport Bills in the summer of 1991.

But Hurdle didn’t forget about being in Williamsport. As soon as he was asked about Bowman Field, it’s as if a switch was flipped in his memories and the nostalgia was replaying in front of him.

He quickly recalled what the stadium itself was like. What the atmosphere was like with the loyal Williamsport fans who turned out day in and day out, despite how many wins or losses the team had, what it was like bumping into fans around town.

Twenty-six years may have passed, but those memories were fresh.

Hurdle’s been managing the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2011 and has seen numerous big league ball parks across the country. But despite seeing big league stadiums every day from the spring through fall, Hurdle is excited to see the renovations that were made this past year to Bowman Field in Williamsport.

“I’m really looking forward to the renovated Bowman Field because Bowman Field had a lot of ambiance when I was there. It was our home park, we kind of rented the park for a year,” Hurdle recalled, sitting behind the desk of his manager’s office inside of PNC Park in mid-July. “We were supposed to be in Binghamton, the field wasn’t finished, so we went to Williamsport. We were welcomed with open arms to the community and baseball people involved.”

Hurdle will get to manage once again in the same stadium he coached in 26 years ago – only this time he’s managing a Major League Baseball team and not a minor-league affiliate. The Pittsburgh Pirates play the St. Louis Cardinals today at Bowman Field in the inaugural MLB Little League Classic.

Williamsport played as the Bills in the Class AA Eastern League from 1987-91 and Hurdle managed the team in 1991, leading the Bills to a 60-79 record and a seventh-place finish in the league.

“It was a hard season for our organization, just with talent base we had there; however, it was my first introduction into the Eastern League. I took a lot of bus rides, but Pennsylvania, you’re traveling around. There’s some nice parks as well, ours was older, more historically based, but there’s some young, creative, renovated parks,” Hurdle said.

And while he was there in Williamsport in 1991, Hurdle did find his way over to South Williamsport to see the Little League World Series back when it was just an eight-team, five-day tournament.

“I got over to the Little League World Series a number of times, obviously that has changed dynamically since 1991,” Hurdle said. “The whole concept, I lived up in Trout Run too, a few miles up the hill. So to go back and honor our game, to plug into the Little League World Series atmosphere? The highest percentage of fans are going to be players from the World Series. It’s a fantastic idea. It should be something very special and obviously has been on (MLB Commissioner) Rob Manfred’s plate to reunite this youthful generation and tie them back into the game. It’s a wonderful chance to do that.”

Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates — in addition to the St. Louis Cardinals — will get to visit the Little League Complex prior to today’s game to visit with players at the Series and see the stadiums.

If you drive by Bowman Field on any given night the Crosscutters are playing at home, you’ll notice a full parking lot and plenty of fans in the stands. And those numerous individuals that are faithful Crosscutter fans have been there since those early days as the Williamsport Bills, and that’s one memory that Hurdle remembers even two decades later from being at Bowman Field.

“Just a good brand of baseball and people who were friendly. We didn’t break any attendance records, but we had a loyal following. We knew they were going to be there every night and you got to know people,” Hurdle said. “It’s a small town. I ended up eating at lot of similar places, you’re shopping at the same places. You get tied into community.”

That’s something vastly different than Hurdle’s daily routine now in the hustle and bustle of Pittsburgh. And being in Pittsburgh, Hurdle’s used to the busy traffic, huge crowds at places and perhaps not being able to find a good parking spot downtown.

Obviously it’s a contrast from managing in Williamsport and living in Trout Run, a roughly 13-mile commute Hurdle said he loved.

“One of the best parts was going up and back (to Trout Run) because that drive, I’d see every type of wild life,” Hurdle recalled in his office. “We saw black bears, we saw red foxes, we saw turkeys, we saw deer in the back yard of the place I lived in. There’d be 30 or 40 at night feeding. It was an incredible summer in a lot of different ways.”

In 2016, the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins played an MLB game at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, playing professional baseball on an active military base for the first time. And that wasn’t the first time an MLB game was played at a unique venue. Fourteen times MLB teams played a regular-season game in Japan and in 2003 and 2004, the Montreal Expos played a total of 43 games in Puerto Rico and four other times were games played in Puerto Rico with MLB teams, most recently in 2010.

This weekend, Major League Baseball makes history again by playing the first MLB game in Williamsport at Bowman Field, the first time the historic stadium will host a Major League game since the stadium first opened its gates on April 22, 1926.

And Hurdle is more than happy that the Pittsburgh Pirates were among the first two teams chosen to partake in the game along with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Absolutely, I think it’s a ground-breaking event. I know the teams that went to Fort Bragg last year are still talking about it because it’s a priceless memory,” Hurdle said. “My wife is from Muncy, I spent a lot of time going back. She’s got family (there). There’s a lot of people excited about this game. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of tickets to be had, but I do think it will be a wonderful event for the city. Another opportunity for Williamsport to show off a little bit.”

South Williamsport gets to be at center stage every late August as ESPN broadcasts the Little League World Series, but this weekend Williamsport will get to steal a little bit of that spotlight as Bowman Field gets national airtime on ESPN as part of Sunday Night Baseball.

While Marlins and Braves players from last year still talk about Fort Bragg, there’s no doubt Pirates and Cardinals players will be mentioning the MLB Little League Classic next year. And for Hurdle and Andrew McCutchen, who have been to Bowman Field as a manager and player, respectively, it’s another memory they’ll get to cherish being back in one of their old home ballparks.