It’s funny how the small moments become bigger in the right context.
It was the same sequence of events we’ve seen a couple hundred times at PNC Park, nothing out of the ordinary. But on Tuesday night when Dean Martin’s velvety voice crooned “That’s Amore” through the ballpark’s P.A. system, the majority of the 19,400 fans in attendance stood and applauded.
In that plate appearance — the 1,436th of Francisco Cervelli’s Major League Baseball career — he was batting for the first time as a player signed under a long-term contract, and in that moment, he didn’t disappoint.
Cervelli delivered a base hit to left field, driving in the Pirates’ third run of the game in a seven-run first inning. He delivered again with an RBI double in the third, and finished the night 3-for-5 with the two RBI and a stolen base.
It was almost as if he hadn’t been in a room at PNC Park just a few hours earlier in the day, describing the feeling of signing a three-year, $31 million contract extension, by far the biggest payday of his career.
“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to be sitting here,” Cervelli said. “This is one of the best days of my life, and I just want to thank the Pirates organization for (their) belief and giving the opportunity.”
It was an opportunity that had been negotiated over the past few months after Cervelli made it known that he wanted to remain a Pirate. Both sides absorbed quite a deal of risk: Cervelli cashed in early before hitting what should be a very thin — and therefore lucrative — market for free agent catchers, and the Pirates ran the risk of paying eight figures to a 30-year-old catcher until his age 33 season (2019).
“Injury is always a risk. It’s a part of the game,” said Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington. “You could argue that there is not a lot of wear and tear on the body because of the role he’s filled and the time down (to injuries). He’s athletic and has skills that should age well.”
But it wasn’t just about the money according to Cervelli.
“I feel like this is my house,” he said. “It’s the place I want to be for — I hope — the rest of my career.”
Imagine that: Pittsburgh being a place where major league players not only want to come to, but stay. And what better place to stay than where the organization wanted him for his unique skill set; where the manager has a different philosophy about resting his players to maximize their effectiveness and ultimately helping Cervelli see the most durable season of his career?
Actually, Cervelli said it was a lot simpler than that for him.
“The most important thing is what we have in the clubhouse,” he said. “Coaches, teammates, it’s just special. If you come to work to a place where you’re happy every day, then I think that’s the place you should be.”
Part of that enjoyment on the job has come from the city of Pittsburgh itself, where the fanbase embraced him as a cult hero after the departure of Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays in free agency.
“Pittsburgh is a city with a lot of love,” Cervelli wrote in a piece for The Players’ Tribune after the contract extension was announced. “When I arrived here, people didn’t know who I was. But it didn’t take long for me to feel the love and respect that the people of Pittsburgh have. That’s why I am coming back.”
But by the time the sun set over the North Shore, it wasn’t about money or financial stability. It was just another day at work.
“I always saw it on TV, players getting the jersey and taking pictures, and I dreamed of that day,” Cervelli said. “We don’t have the jersey today, but I don’t care. I’ve got a game to play today, and I’m going to put it on.”
Once he put on that jersey Tuesday night, he went straight back to the task of helping his team win. And he’ll have that same job for three more years, just the way he and the Pirates want it.