I’ve always thought the best thing about the annual Winter Caravan is that it allows fans to get more of an up-close-and-personal look at the Pirates. On the field, they’re pitchers and fielders, all wearing identical uniforms and usually trying hard to keep their emotions in check. But on the Caravan, they’re real people who do ordinary, wonderful and sometimes silly things. You get to see Andrew McCutchen being a human beat-box, James McDonald and Daniel McCutchen shooting hoops, and Evan Meek frantically stacking paper cups in a race against a fifth-grader. One longtime Caravan veteran tells of his group running through the streets of Johnstown late one night in a snowstorm, yelling, “Hello, bowling alley!” “Hello, drugstore!” just like that famous scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Today, when the Caravan pulled into The Children’s Institute in Squirrel Hill, I saw manager Clint Hurdle nearly overcome by emotion. It was Hurdle’s third visit this year to The Institute, which has the premier program in the world for patients with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Through Hurdle’s “Wins for Kids” program, he and Pirates Charities raised $54,000, half of which went to The Children’s Institute. Hurdle’s daughter, Maddie, has PWS and as he spoke of the challenges and the joys of being her father, his voice caught in his throat. That was a real moment. That taught me more about Hurdle — what kind of man he is — than I’d learn from a hundred press conferences and post-game briefings.
»»» The Pirates signed reliever Ryota Igarashi, 32, to a minor league contract, though the deal has not yet been announced. The right-hander pitched in 79 games over the past two years with the Mets and put up a 5.74 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. … First baseman Steve Pearce, whom the Pirates cut loose a few weeks ago, signed a minor league deal with the Twins.