Welcome back, Nate



DALLAS — When the Braves declined his option and made Nate McLouth a free agent, the first team to call his agent was the Pirates. “I was a little surprised, but I was happy,” McLouth said today. “Winding down, when I knew I wasn’t going to be with the Braves anymore, it was a thought that went through my head, maybe coming back (to the Pirates) at some point.” McLouth called the choice to sign a one-year, $1.75-million contract with the Pirates “the easiest decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

The Pirates drafted McLouth in 2000 and he played for them from 2005-09. He cried in the clubhouse after being traded to the Braves in 2009. “My goal was to be part of helping the franchise turn around. It was a task I looked forward to,” he said. “To not be able to see that through was one of the most difficult parts of being traded. Now that I’m back, I welcome that challenge with the same enthusiasm as I had before, knowing that we’re even closer than when I left.”

Only two players — Jeff Karstens and Evan Meek — remain on the roster from when McLouth last wore black and gold. McLouth said there’s a different feel around the Pirates now, and added that the talent level has gone up. ” I’m anxious to join that and build off what they were able to do last year,” he said.

»»» McLouth was ejected in the ninth inning of the 19-inning game the Pirates and Braves staged in Atlanta last July. The Braves won, 4-3, when umpire Jerry Meals blew the call and ruled Julio Lugo safe on a not-so-close play at the plate. “We talked about that game for the rest of the year,” McLouth said. “None of us had ever seen anything like that. It was crazy. I can’t imagine being on the losing end of that game. Those are tough. You can say, ‘We’ll put this one behind us,’ but it’s tough to do.”

Does McLouth believe Lugo was safe? “Oh … I didn’t have a very good view of it,” McLouth said, laughing. “And I didn’t watch the replay, I promise.”