MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

There’s an old adage adopted from the title of a 1940 Thomas Wolfe novel that says, “You can never go home again.” The saying is meant to infer how nostalgia causes us to view the past in overly-positive lights, and how we tend to remember people and places from our past in unvarying terms.

Generally speaking, I would not disagree with this. However, there is nothing general about baseball, as baseball has long been the exception, with the entire object of baseball being to go home, and to be safe at home.

The 2013 National League Most Valuable Player and five-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen, the best center fielder in baseball not so very long ago, is going home; and as soon as it is officially announced, McCutchen will be safe at home in Pittsburgh playing once more for the Pirates, the team that drafted him and raised him in its system, then watched him flourish in becoming one of the very best players in the game.

MLB.com reported McCutchen’s return at the end of the last week, with the official announcement coming pending a physical. The deal is said to be for one year and $5 million, just enough for one of the most accomplished players in Pirates history to, perhaps, say his farewells in the place where it all began and unfolded.

The Pirates selected him with the 11th pick in the 2005 MLB Draft and from 2009-17, McCutchen earned five All-Star nominations, four Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. In 2013, McCutchen was the NL MVP in leading the Bucs to their first postseason in more than two decades.

Given the shady ownership Pirates fans have been forced to endure in Pittsburgh for far too long, they have certainly needed a reason to go to the gorgeous PNC Park other than the park itself (even though it has always been worth the price of admission), and for the better part of a decade, McCutchen was that reason. He was clearly, and remains, the best baseball player to play for the Pirates since one Barry Bonds from back in the day when what you saw with Bonds is what was real.

In the winter of 2018, however, the Pirates, in the midst of one of their maddening cost-cutting exercises that justly angers their fanbase so much, traded McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Bryan Reynolds, pitcher Kyle Crick and $500,000 in international bonus pool space.

As it turns out, Reynolds, over the course of the past four seasons, has become an All-Star and Pittsburgh’s best player, which has become indicative with his recent trade request, but the Pirates don’t seem to have an interest in moving him just for the sake of moving him — at least not yet.

After San Francisco, McCutchen played for the Yankees, the Phillies and the Brewers and has been a productive player at every stop.

McCutchen did not ask for his trade out of Pittsburgh and the fans have always understood this, thus having always given him a warm welcome whenever he has returned to PNC as a member of the opposition. That welcome should be something to experience on Opening Day, for McCutchen and for Pirates fans, and is likely to evolve into a season-long embrace.

In the dead of a winter abyss without playoff football in the Steel City, the word of McCutchen’s return has been a much-needed breath of good news for Pittsburgh sports fans, as “Cutch” closes in on several personal milestones, including 2,000 career hits, 300 home runs, 400 doubles and 1,000 walks. Forty-three players have reached those milestones in baseball history, with Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto the only active players on the list.

McCutchen will see time at designated hitter and the corner-outfield positions and is certain to be counted on to mentor many of the young Pirates players, including Reynolds; though the Bucs have added several veterans over the offseason, including Rich Hill, Carlos Santana, Ji-Man Choi and Austin Hedges.

As good as McCutchen has always been and compared to what he might now be in the 15th season of his career – he’ll be 36 on Opening Day — the real point here is that everybody has always just liked him; they like him and care for him very much. He is gracious, accommodating and helpful to the fans and has always been active and generous within the Pittsburgh community and in his charity work.

And he’s been a damn fine ballplayer, particularly for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

You can never go home again? Baloney.

This is baseball, and Andrew McCutchen is safe at home.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT