McLouth a proud Pirate, and says talent is upgraded

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
BRADENTON, Fla. -- You see him in black and gold and, man, what a strange sight it is.

Nate McLouth?

Same dude who once one of Pittsburgh's stars of the future, then was unceremoniously shipped to Atlanta and never did take off the way so many expected?

He was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round in 2000. Became a National League All-Star in 2008. Signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract extension in 2009 that sure appeared to lock him in as one of the Pirates' cornerstones.

Then, off to Atlanta for Charlie Morton.

So after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Braves, he signs with the Pirates as a free agent in December and, yes, it must be strange, right?

"Not at all," McLouth says. "It's quite the opposite, actually.

"It's great to be back. I thought it might be a little weird."

Instead, the black and gold, the familiar spring clubhouse in Bradenton, the anticipation of heading north to Pittsburgh ... it's all as comforting and welcome to him as the sight of Kent Tekulve's smile (yes, the former Pirates reliever is here this spring as an alumni coach).

But better yet, McLouth has noticed a major difference this spring from when he was hanging around between 2005 and 2009: More talent.

"There's no question," McLouth says. "Some of the guys ... I can only speak to the guys I've seen in spring training, but there are some big-time players here. Not role players.

"I think it was a little thin when I left. It certainly isn't now. Maybe some of them are a few years away, but there are going to be some studs."

Sunblock Day? The streak of 80 degrees continues. It's good to be selling sunblock in Florida this spring.

Likes: Magic Johnson in the Dodgers ownership box. The Dodgers could not have emerged from the misery of the past several years in any better shape. With Magic and Stan Kasten, expected to be club president, the Dodgers are about to become a monster. ... I do think the Pirates, finally, are on the right track. I predict a winning season this year or next. ... The original fried grouper sandwich at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill on Clearwater Beach. The best, bar none. ... Mama's Meat Loaf at Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant.

Dislikes: We lost a legend when bluegrass genius Earl Scruggs passed away at 88.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Well, I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday
"Parking by the lake and there was not another car in sight
"And I never had a girl looking any better than you did
"And all the kids at school, they were wishing they were me that night"

-- Meat Loaf, Paradise by the Dashboard Light
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