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Still a boy of summer

Pirates outfielder Chisenhall ready for 9th MLB season

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Lonnie Chisenhall wants to hear your questions.

The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder and Newport native will be the guest speaker at the 44th annual Wilson Hot Stove banquet Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Recreation Park Community Center and he would not spend the entire segment talking about himself.

“I’m much better at Q and A than standing in front of people talking about myself!” Chisenhall said during a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon while waiting to pick his children up from their school in Morehead City. “I’ll try to keep it pretty informal, try to keep it real and lively, so we’ll see what happens.”

In a few weeks, Chisenhall will start his ninth major league season, but first with the Pirates after signing a one-year deal as a free agent in December. He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians out of PCC in the first round of the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and spent all 11 of his seasons in professional baseball in the Cleveland organization. 

It’s going to be a little bit of a change for him, Chisenhall said.

“Luckily I’m a little bit older player,” said Chisenhall, who turned 30 in October. “I’ve never played with any of the guys on the team or had any of the coaching staff, but I’m sure there’ll be a lot of meet and greet at spring training. But you just show up and hopefully everybody’s heading in the same direction, trying to win ball games and that should take care of a lot of it.”

Chisenhall is accepting of his role as a veteran player in Pittsburgh. He will be just one of five players 30 or older on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster, including fellow North Carolina native Chris Archer, who is nine days older than Chisenhall.

“I’ll be one of the older guys on the team. Being with the same organization for 11 years and changing over, there’s never any set roles for being an older guy,” he said. “You come in, do your work and hope people are watching you. I do the same thing for young guys. There’s things that you can take from anybody so I don’t consider myself too old.”

HIGH SCHOOL DAYS

It wasn’t that long ago that Chisenhall was a fireballing right-handed pitcher and a dangerous hitter for the baseball teams at West Carteret High and then Pitt Community College. 

“You know, time goes by fast in the game,” he said. “You become an old guy a lot faster than you want to. Luckily, I came up young. I was only 22 when I came up. You get to be a little kid for most of your life and I’m 30 years old and still playing baseball, so I appreciate that every day.”

Chisenhall recalled the duels he had with Alex White of D.H. Conley during high school. Chisenhall and the Patriots won the 3-A Coastal Conference in 2006 but then lost to White and the Vikings, who were the Coastal runners-up, in a memorable third-round state playoff game as Conley went on to win the state championship.

Later, White, who went on to star at North Carolina, was drafted by the Indians in 2009. He played part of the 2011 season in Cleveland before being traded to the Colorado Rockies.

“He’s a great player, especially a great pitcher and athlete in general,” Chisenhall said. “It’s pretty neat when paths cross in childhood and then you play with and against one another this late in the game.”

EXCITED TO BE IN PITTSBURGH

Chisenhall, who was originally drafted by the Pirates out of high school in 2006 but attended the University of South Carolina for a year instead, will likely play right field to start the season in Pittsburgh while Gregory Polanco rehabs from a shoulder injury.

“For the time being — the first month or two and maybe three — I’ll be filling in in right field and after that it’ll be pretty fluid,” Chisenhall said. “I’ll be doing whatever the team needs me to do that day. I’m comfortable doing that and versatility has become kind of key in the game today, especially for guys trying to play into their 30s.”

Versatility has been a big part of Chisenhall’s game going back to high school. While he pitched and played the field at Pitt Community College (where he was a teammate of Brian Allen, who will receive the Eunice Sasser Memorial Award for top area umpire in 2019 at Tuesday’s banquet), Chisenhall started out as a third baseman in the minors. He has played all three outfield positions as well as first and third base in the big leagues, but he admits that he wouldn’t mind getting back on the mound to see if he’s still got it.

“There’s been some times where I’ve almost been able to get in some games that were blowouts and things like that and pitch but it’s never really happened,” he said. “It’s always been a passion of mine. I tend to get jealous when you see other guys on TV throw an inning or two. … I’d like to get up there a time or two and see if I have anything left in the tank.”

Chisenhall proved to be a reliable everyday player for the Indians, hitting .268 with 64 home runs and 296 RBIs in eight seasons. He started in the outfield for Cleveland in the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs and batted .364 in the American League Division Series that season. He was part of three playoff teams in Cleveland and hopes that experience can be replicated in Pittsburgh.

“I know it’s a good group of kids and the pitching staff is great and the bullpen’s good,” he said. “The outfield’s strong with (Starling) Marte in center and (Corey) Dickerson in left. It’ll be exciting with a good group of guys but the (National League) Central’s going to be a tough division so we’ll have to win some important games before we worry about the playoffs.”

FINALLY HEALTHY

Personally, Chisenhall is looking forward to being back at 100 percent physically after his time was limited over the past two seasons in Cleveland with a calf injury. He only played in 29 games in 2018 and none after July, although he hit a career-best .321. 

“After the last episode, I’ll call it, because there was a couple of them, I’ve rehabbed slowly and I was really just focusing on being healthy and having a healthy winter where I could train, not just my calves but my legs entirely where my calves aren’t taking the brunt of the load,” he said. “I haven’t had an issue. I’ve felt good from probably six-to-eight weeks after that injury with no pain at all, even through rehab. So I’m feeling good and I’m pretty sure it’s in the rearview mirror.”

While he’s looking forward to another baseball season, Chisenhall enjoys the time spent in the offseason with his wife, Meredith — whom he met in high school — and their three young children, ages 6, 4 and 1, at their home in Morehead City.

“I like to do offshore fishing, although I miss the good months,” he said of his offseason activities. “I try to hunt about five to seven days a year and then the rest of it, I try to get as much kid time as I can. When the season starts, it’s hard to pull them out of school. So in the spring, I’ll see them maybe two or three weekends while I’m down there (at spring training in Florida) and then they don’t come up for summer until school is out. You try to spend as much time with them as you can.”

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