Gerrit Cole sat on a stool in the cramped locker room at the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league complex in Bradenton, Fla., in late February and thought for a moment.
What, exactly, does the burly right-hander love so much about baseball?
Sure, the money is great. The potential fame too. Yet for the player considered one of the cornerstones of a franchise rebuilding itself from the ground up, the pull is much more primitive.
“I just like to just beat somebody,” Cole said. “Kick somebody’s [butt] really. That’s what I like doing and that’s what I’m good at.”
Time to prove it.
The 22-year-old will make his major league debut tonight when the Pirates host the San Francisco Giants, a moment a lifetime in the making for a player considered “can’t miss” since the first time he pulled on a glove as a kid growing up in Southern California.
To be honest, it’s a moment Cole hoped would happen a little sooner.
The top pick in the 2011 draft sprinted through Pittsburgh’s farm system, needing just 26 starts to move from Class A Bradenton to Triple-A Indianapolis last summer.
Yet when the Pirates decided to send him to minor league camp halfway through spring training for more seasoning, Cole’s frustration was palpable. Sorry, but 6-foot-4, 240-pound pound guys who can regularly pump 99 mph fastballs by overmatched hitters are used to getting their way.
There would be no pouting, however. At least not outwardly. Cole bit his lip and went to work.
“As disappointed as he was, he jumped into this with both feet,” Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. “He asked a lot of questions.”
Not one of them was “when do I get out of here?” That doesn’t mean Cole didn’t think it, even as Pittsburgh’s best start in more than 20 years quelled the drumbeat for his arrival.
This is the same player, after all, who would constantly challenge his teammates to anything and everything while playing at Lutheran Orange High in Orange, Calif., a half-hour southeast of Los Angeles. Long toss. Batting practice. It didn’t matter. Cole’s drive to prove himself was relentless.
While trade acquisitions A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez have given the Pirates a much-needed influx of competency and grit at the top of the rotation, they are entering the twilight of their careers.
Cole and 2010 second-overall pick Jameson Taillon are the future. Cole’s run will begin against the defending World Series champions and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.