Gurnee native Shelton enjoys preparing Pirates for better days ahead

Maybe this is a Pennsylvania thing.

The NBA's Philadelphia 76ers went through “The Process” of losing their way to several high draft picks and ended up getting better.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a similar phase, sort of in dry dock right now, trying to collect talent that will pay off in the future.

As captain of a ship that's not necessarily built to win, Gurnee native Derek Shelton has no complaints about the course that's been set.

“No, I don't want sympathy and I don't want our players to get it,” Shelton said. “What I get most and I really appreciate it is, 'Your guys play really hard, the effort's really good.'

“From people in the game: 'We realize what you're going through and what you're doing, but the fact that your players go out every night and play hard.' That really sticks out to me.”

Heading into Saturday's game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Pirates owned a 48-87 record, which is still just fourth-worst in MLB.

But they showed some fight even while dropping the first two games of this Cubs series. They scored twice in the ninth inning to tie Thursday's game, then rallied from a 5-0 deficit on Friday.

“The things I enjoy about this job is the teaching aspect of it,” Shelton said. “I think that goes back to my dad. My mom and dad were both teachers and there was always a discussion of how you were going to get better. Big league players want to get better and especially where we're at in our process right now, the development portion is really big.”

Shelton, 51, is in his second season as Pirates manager. He played catcher at Warren High School and Southern Illinois, then spent a few seasons in the Yankees minor leagues.

“I got hurt, but being hurt didn't end my career, being bad ended my career,” Shelton said. “I had played for the Yankees, and Mark Newman, who was running the Yankees at the time, was also a Southern Illinois guy. He told me when my career was over to think about a coaching career and he was able to get me in and kind of history from there.”

So at age 26, Shelton's first role was batting coach on a Yankees Gulf Coast rookie league squad.

“As they were learning about hitting, I was learning about hitting,” he said.

From there, Shelton started climbing the ladder, from minor league manager to hitting coach for Cleveland and Tampa Bay. He worked for Toronto and Minnesota before becoming Pirates manager in 2020.

He also has a pretty good mentor in his father Ron, the longtime Warren varsity coach who now does a deep dive into every Pirates game from his home in Florida.

“He gives me advice every night,” Shelton said of his father. “He still texts me every day before games and texts me after. So yeah, he still gives me advice. He probably pays attention as much as anybody in Pittsburgh to what we're doing and how we're doing it.”

Well, it's nice to have someone to lean on who is always in your corner.

“I don't think I have a choice in some of those conversations,” Shelton said with a laugh. “He's still got good questions. He's got a good baseball mind, so I do lean on him.”

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