When the Pirates clubhouse doors opened last night, Russell Martin was standing at his locker beginning to remove his uniform. The media rushed over and began forming a semi-circle around him. Martin looked around at the gathering scrum and asked for some time to shower and, presumably, collect his thoughts for what might be his last postgame comments as a member of the Pirates.
It is a bittersweet experience being in the clubhouse when the season ends. For the players, there is mixture of disappointment over unmet goals and pride in what was accomplished and for having completed the long grind. For beat reporters, the long story they've spent so many hours and months writing suddenly ends, and there is both satisfaction in knowing they tried to write it well and a sense of loss that the final chapter has been written.
Near the end of the night, when the clubhouse is ready to close for the last time, there are a few poignant minutes where reporters and players go off the record and exchange handshakes and wish each other well in the offseason. For a brief moment that invisible but clearly defined divide that exists between the two groups disappears, and they share expressions of relief, appreciation, and even respect for having made it through the long journey.
When Martin returned to his locker, the press gathered again, and one of the undisputed leaders on the team spoke of the just-completed season.
"It's definitely not how I wanted it to end, but you have to give credit where credit is due, and the Giants were better than us today," Martin said. "But we're definitely right there. We beat the Giants quite a bit this year. Who knows, maybe they win the whole thing and we feel like we're just as good of a team as they have. ... We're definitely not far away. The team is heading in the right direction."
When Martin flew out to center field in the bottom of ninth, the remaining Pirates fans gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name. Martin jogged most of the way back to the dugout with his head down, but just before disappearing down the steps he took off his batting helmet and quickly waved it to the crowd in recognition.
"That was pretty special," Martin said of the ovation and chants. "Just to get that type of reaction from the crowd, especially when you're losing a big game, that was one of the coolest moments I've had in baseball."
Asked if he could imagine returning to the Pirates next season, Martin had this to say:
"At this point I'm not even thinking about anything like that. I'm just wishing a happy offseason to all the guys in here. But, definitely, I've had more fun playing baseball here than I have in my whole career. I'm definitely going to keep that in mind when decision time comes."
Gerrit Cole, an emerging team leader in the clubhouse, talked about how the team fought through adversity all season.
"I can't say enough about how we grinded," Cole said. "How we picked ourselves up when we were down. We persevered through a lot of injuries and obstacles that come through a 162 games. We played together as team. Played together as a unit. Cared about each other. You know, we left it all on the field. So, when you don't get rewarded, it's tough. We did it right and we went for it."
Cole was asked about what Martin has meant to the the team.
"Russ is the heartbeat of the team," Cole said. "He controls the pitching staff. He really is the leader on all three sides of the baseball. ... I don't know if I have words to describe how much he means to this team. How much he means to this clubhouse. He is a player that doesn't come around very often. He is a guy that always has your back. He is guy that fights. He never gives up."
He added that Martin has earned the opportunity to decide exactly where he wants to play and for how much money next year.
"And whether he comes back here -- which obviously I think everybody in this room hopes he does -- wherever he may go, he is absolutely deserves it." Cole said. "He absolutely deserves any sum of money any team wants to throw at him. All the power to him. He has a decision to make for his future. And that's an exciting time for him. I hope he enjoys it and picks the right one."
Josh Harrison, a player who in many ways rescued the season and certainly provided so many of its memorable moments, stood upright and strong at his locker, and spoke with the same authentic confidence that we've all come to expect from him.
"We're still proud," Harrison said. "We gave ourselves a chance to play meaningful baseball in October. And, you know, it just makes us that much more hungry to win a division next year ... These losses right here hurt. It's not anything anybody would ever get used to. At the end of the day we still know that we are fortunate enough to be in this situation. There were a lot of teams that were eliminated on Sunday. And we had a chance to win tonight and play more."
Harrison went from a player from whom not much was expected to an All-Star this season. And in typical fashion, he remains as unconcerned at the end of the season as he was at the beginning of what people expect going forward.
"[People] can feel free to expect whatever they want from me [next year]," Harrison said. "I've never fed into what people expected from me before I had this season. So there is no reason for me to feed into it next season. I know what I'm capable of. Go home, get my rest, start working out. Come to spring training ready like I always do."
Clint Hurdle had to endure the painful 75 yard walk to the press conference room on a degenerative hip for the last time last night. As he reflected on the season, he returned to a theme that has come to define the 2014 Pirates.
"I'm honored to be their manager," Hurdle said. "I'm proud of each and every man and each and every coach, because we had multiple opportunities to get tested and challenged and we didn't back down. We didn't go away. We stayed resilient. We persevered."