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Colin Dunlap: Clint Hurdle Fights Through The Pain

Clint Hurdle says a prayer each morning.

Maybe more than one, but recently he's been working in a specific request.

"I say, 'Give me the strength and courage to burden my pain so that my pain doesn't become a burden for others,'" Hurdle said of his appeal.

We might all be able to see the badges of his pain --- the constant limp and his inability to sit down in the dugout --- but it's impossible to quantify precisely what the Pirates manager is physically going through as his team navigates into the center of a Division and Wild Card race.

You see, all the way back to the beginning of the season, it was apparent to Hurdle that he needed hip-replacement surgery after an off-season doctor visit yielded a chronic arthritis diagnosis.

Have you seen him recently amble out to make a pitching change or agonizingly stroll to the home plate umpire to alert him of a double-switch?

It pains me, it probably pains you --- I can't imagine how much that hurting hip pains him.

And those are the moments we see, the ones for public consumption.

What we don't see are the long charter flights where Hurdle has been forced to stand in the aisle of the aircraft because it's too excruciating to sit down.

We don't see the private moments at home where the most mundane tasks --- and sleeping --- have become a demanding chore.

We don't see the spans of time in his hotel room on the road, where he sometimes finds himself standing even after the most tiresome of days because the discomfort of sitting is unbearable.

We don't see the cane he's sometimes taken to using recently, either.

In a way, though, Hurdle is doing this to himself because of his devotion to the men in that clubhouse. At any time during the season he could have shut it down, delegated ultimate power to his staff and had the hip-replacement then returned after he recovered.

He just couldn't bring himself to be away from this team.

Not in a pennant chase.

Not at this time.

Not when he's come this far.

Hurdle will have the operation very soon after the season ends.

"This thing got on its own course and has progressed much more rapidly than anybody had anticipated and, basically, any other cases the experts had come across," Hurdle said.

A few months ago, Hurdle had a conversation with medical professionals caring for him and asked, at that time, how many patients they had with a hip in that current state who kept pushing through without surgery.

"Nobody," was the answer. "You should have had the operation two months ago."

But he didn't. The skipper has pressed on through the throbbing and stinging, attempting to block it out the best he can as his ballclub marches toward the postseason.

But you can see it as he winces when he walks, you can see it with each measured step of that piercing gait --- his hip is bothering the hell out of him.

Hurdle is also a recovering alcoholic, putting the bottle down for what he envisions forever in 1998.

As such, while many in the run-up to such a surgery --- and then immediate aftermath --- would opt for narcotic painkillers, Hurdle won't go near them.

"As a recovering alcoholic, I can't touch them and I won't touch them, just a road I can't go down, narcotics are something that aren't an option for me," Hurdle said candidly and forthright. "On the days we fly I'll take one non-narcotic painkiller to try to get me through the flight, but that's it in terms of pain management."

A source in the medical field familiar with Hurdle's condition was asked about the manager not taking daily painkillers to counterbalance the pain and said: "That's gladiator-type stuff right there. I would imagine the pain every day is unimaginable."

The pain is also not lost on his team.

When catcher Russell Martin --- a man who plays baseball's most demanding position --- was initially approached and asked about what his manager is dealing with, his first reaction was to shake his head side to side and just let out a soft, "whew."

It was as if Martin --- a man who has been run over time and time again and drilled by countless foul balls --- needed a moment to fully process what the 57-year-old Hurdle is withstanding each day.

"You recognize he's in a grind, maybe more than us players," Martin said. "He can't hide the fact that his hip is bothering him. The limp is severe and it definitely hasn't gotten better since the beginning of the year.

"But he never talks about it, you never hear Clint complain and, as a player, you can't help but respect a man who battles through adversity."
Hurdle has.

And has done it largely without wanting to talk about the hip, rather, only engaging questions here and there when asked.

In a way it's like Hurdle has wanted to put it out of mind until he gets the surgery even as, with just one look at him, none of us can put it out of sight.

"We all find out a lot more about ourselves when we get put in these positions," Hurdle said.

Indeed, we do.

There's something more to it. As he grits through this, it appears his team --- and this city --- is finding out a whole lot about the toughness of Clint Hurdle.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 "The Fan." You can e-mail him at Check out his bio here.

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