By Murray Chass on February 17, 2013

    Pittsburgh Pirates fans, of whom I was one in my youth, didn’t know how to react. After suffering through 19 consecutive losing seasons, the fans were in ecstasy early in August last season. But they wound up in agony and disbelief.

    That the Pirates wound up with their 20th consecutive losing season the fans could believe because they had become inured to losing. The disbelief arose from the revelation that the Pirates were engaged in a program of bizarre conditioning of their young minor league players.

    The club had retained an outfit of former Navy SEALs to work with the players and put them through mental and physical routines that stunned the baseball world – players running along a Florida beach toting small telephone poles, having sand thrown on them, being sprayed with a hose.

    Disclosure of the Pirates’ unusual, to say the least, activities left members of other organizations shaking their heads in bewilderment and wondering how crazy professional baseball men could get.

    This is just the start of spring training so the Pirates don’t know how their major league team will do on the field, but they already know what their young players will be doing off the field.

    “What we’re doing is helping our minor league players become mentally stronger, helping them block out distractions,” General Manager Neal Huntington said in a telephone interview Friday.

    Murray Chass

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