NL MVP Andrew McCutchen: “Everything Happens for a Reason”
Gracious and gregarious, Andrew McCutchen makes a positive impact on everyone who crosses his path
BY NICOLE BARLEY
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CAYLA ZAHORAN
ART DIRECTION BY ALLIE WIST + JASON SOLAK
Andrew McCutchen believes that everything happens for a reason.
It’s one of his mantras for living life to the fullest, and it imbues his day-to-day life, which centers around his role as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting center fielder. “The motto for me is being very appreciative of everything that you have and every opportunity that you get,” he says. “In everything that you do, everything happens for a reason, and, good or bad, you’re going to get something out of it because it happened for a reason.”
So, as we are walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to our location for this photo shoot, and we literally cross paths with Roberto Clemente, Jr. and his wife, Melissa, McCutchen’s faith in the purpose and reality of fate is brought to striking light.
The Clementes are only in town for a brief visit, but one with a meaningful purpose — to introduce Duquesne University’s $1 million endowment toward the Roberto Clemente Scholarship for Hispanic Undergraduates later that afternoon. “We’re very proud that Duquesne University is announcing the scholarship today. It solidifies our relationship as a family with the city of Pittsburgh and with the students who will forever change our lives,” Clemente, Jr. explains.
McCutchen and the Clementes chat briefly, exchange handshakes and phone numbers, and the shoot moves forward, with that very significant moment infusing the rest of our time together.
Later, during a follow-up call with Clemente, Jr., he acknowledges McCutchen’s bright present and future. “I’m really proud that he’s a Pirate. I hope he will stay in Pittsburgh for his entire career and be the No. 1 player for the franchise. He has the ability to do that, no doubt.”
Not surprisingly, McCutchen considers Number 21, the Great One, Roberto Clemente, “a huge role model,” along with Jackie Robinson. And now, the current Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder is following in a path of community service, of giving back, and of being thankful for whatever life pitches his way.
Beyond baseball, McCutchen is actively involved in the Pittsburgh community, a place he considers his second home, after his hometown of Fort Meade, Fla. “I thought, ‘What other way than to go out and help this community, and help it in any way that I can?’” says McCutchen of his decision to give back to the city. “And I don’t do it because I feel like I have to do it, because when you do that, your heart’s not in it, and you end up doing it and not really getting much out of it. I did it because I really wanted to do it.”
During his seven-year tenure with the Pirates organization, he’s been regaled by stories of lifelong Pittsburghers who knew Clemente as kids, who recall the times the iconic right fielder welcomed them into his home for lemonade, took the time to engage with them, and handed out signed baseballs. Stories like that inspire McCutchen to remember it’s the small things that make the biggest difference in the lives of others — and that his role as an MLB star player provides him the chance to be really impactful.
“Playing this game opens a lot of doors for me to change the lives of a lot of people — kids, older people, people my age — if it’s from giving a word of advice, if it’s from giving somebody a high five, a handshake, a hug, a smile, anything, just knowing that that could change somebody’s life.”
In April, he joined a Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh crew in McKeesport to help remodel a home for a local, low-income family. “They’re working, but they can’t provide financially, the bills, towards housing, and I really like that I can help in that aspect,” he explains. “I really have a heart towards that. My family had me in high school and they struggled growing up in the beginning, so I can really feel where those families are coming from.”
McCutchen is also involved with Pittsburgh Promise. Last year, he spent time with baseball players from rival Oliver and Perry high schools as they merged into one, encouraging them to put their energy toward playing the game that they love and helping each other learn and grow. And, as part of this year’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, Cutch’s Crew for Pirates Charities helped raise more than $12,000 for community-building initiatives in the Greater Pittsburgh region.
Patty Paytas, Senior Vice President of Community and Public Affairs for the Pittsburgh Pirates, acknowledges the ways in which McCutchen has established himself as a team player for the club and the city. “We are very fortunate to have Andrew as a member of our team. He is a true superstar, not only for what he does on the field, but just as importantly, for his genuine commitment to the community off the field. He is sincere about what he’s doing. He is genuinely interested in helping others, especially those who have a similar background as him. I can honestly say that he is a great role model for young people in our community, and now around the nation. We are very, very proud of what he has accomplished so far.”
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh Executive Director Maggie Withrow recalls the story of how McCutchen, now a spokesperson for the nonprofit organization, came to know this family, after meeting them with a group of other Habitat families at PirateFest in December 2012. “When he came to the Habitat house in McKeesport, he remembered them, and that spoke volumes to me. That’s special. He’s paying attention. He has chosen to become actively involved,” she says.
During his time at the house, helping move tile and drywall, and interacting with the crew and volunteers, “he was so casual with everybody, but very connected,” says Withrow. “He wasn’t Andrew McCutchen the baseball player; he was Andrew McCutchen, the guy who was asking questions about Habitat and more about the family and was very interested in learning more about how the program worked.”
It’s true — McCutchen is very easy to talk to and connect with. Not only in person, but on social media as well. In January of this year, BuzzFeed.com named him “The Most Charming Baseball Player on Instagram,” citing an array of adorable photos, noting that not only does Cutch have the “coolest hair in the sport,” but that he “still cuts his dad’s hair,” “makes his lady breakfast,” and “has excellent taste in snacks.”
Social media played an integral role in Cutch’s life recently, as a successful Twitter campaign (@THECUTCH22) won him the cover of the Sony PlayStation video game, MLB 13: The Show, coming in with a total of 108,147 votes.
In fact, this past January, Anthony Bourdain even joined in the Twitter voting, promoting McCutchen’s #MLB13Cutch campaign to his followers. And, in keeping with the theme of things working out the way they’re meant to, McCutchen had the chance to interview Bourdain, of whom he is a fan, during the chef’s appearance with Eric Ripert at the Benedum Center the night before our photo shoot. He later tweeted, “nice to meet you @Bourdain! let me know when you’re ready to take some swings at PNC.”
A 30-second TV spot for MLB 13: The Show debuted recently and features an announcer ardently congratulating McCutchen and the Pirates on “winning” the 2013 World Series as clips of the video game that’s “So real. It’s Unreal,” flash on the screen. McCutchen shares that the entire taping was unscripted, just a continuous reel of ad libs between him and the pseudo-announcer. Turns out, Cutch also has great comedic timing.
Says McCutchen of why he tweets and shares these details of his life: “It helps me to interact with people who may not know me beyond the baseball field. All they see is a player on the field, who the majority of the time is serious, so I think the social media side really helps people understand me as a person, and they know that I like to have fun. I like to laugh, I like to joke. I’m a normal person.”
A normal person, yes, but one with extraordinary talents — on the baseball field and off the field, too, especially when it comes to his ability to connect with people. He sees himself as one of the “guys on the team that really helps the fun aspect of the game. I bring it out of people,” he says.
His skills extend beyond what we see on TV and hear about in the community. On a more personal level, if he wasn’t playing baseball, the 26-year-old thinks he might be doing something creative, perhaps in the field of music (he loves to sing, and his favorite artists include John Legend, Lil Wayne, and 2 Chainz). He also has a natural affinity for science. “Yeah, it’s weird. I like science,” he says with a laugh. “It came real easy to me all the way up through high school.”
All of those things are part of McCutchen’s path, each contributing to his journey, which continues to unfold in very special ways. Humble and happy, he acknowledges the importance of making the most of the here and now. “Every time I’m on the baseball field, I’m very appreciative to be in that position that I’m in, playing center field in front of thousands of people and knowing that that moment won’t last forever,” he says. “I’m not going to always have this moment, so you want to live in the moment and seize the moment, and that’s what I try to do every single day.”