BRADENTON, Fla. -- The first time he ran into his new hitting coach, at the mid-December PirateFest, Neil Walker approached Jay Bell as sheepishly as little kids approach him.
"I was a huge fan of you growing up," Walker said to Bell, adding, "I just wanted to get that out of the way, so we can move on."
The Pittsburgh native grew up rooting for the Bucs, and his recollections go back to when he was about five -- to the middle of the 1990-92 title run when Bell was the everyday shortstop. So having Bell, as well as Mike LaValliere, the catcher on those clubs, in camp makes this a special Spring Training for Walker.
The Bucs second baseman already has a new appreciation for Bell, as a hitting tutor.
"He'll be good for us. He's less mechanical, talks more about the process," said Walker, contrasting Bell's style to that of predecessor Gregg Ritchie. "Like how you figure to be pitched in certain situations. More fundamental stuff. And he's so intelligent, very good at conveying his thoughts."
The influences of those 1990-92 Pirates on Walker run deep.
"I became a switch-hitter because of Bobby Bonilla," he said, referring to the powerful switch-hitting right fielder on those teams.
Inge excited for opportunity with blue-collar team
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The postseason pedigree of the Pirates clubhouse took quite a leap Saturday morning, when Brandon Inge stepped through the doors. The versatile veteran and his 23 playoff games, sought by several teams, were drawn to the black and gold by blue.
"I'm a huge fan of blue-collar teams over the years, no matter their record at the end of the season. In my eyes, this team always plays hard. I like that. I want to be a part of that," said Inge, who reported to camp three days after agreeing to a Minor League deal with the Bucs that included an invitation to Spring Training.
"For me, it seemed like a good fit," Inge continued, "offering a better chance for an opportunity to help turn the team around. To be honest with you, I kinda enjoy that. You look over the years, and the big top-dollar teams don't always turn out the way they expected."
Inge will have an opportunity to prove his value in a reserve infielder's role, but has been told to not overdo it too quickly. He underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder in September. But while he proclaimed himself pain-free, he acknowledged that he still has to build up strength in the joint.
"I can throw, and I want to go out there and let it go, but we've set sights on April, so there's no reason to push it and get hurt in the process," Inge said.
A 35-year-old Virginia native who broke in with the 2001 Tigers as a catcher and through the years has started at five different positions, Inge will go through his 15th Spring Training, but the first outside of Lakeland, Detroit's spring home. Last season, he signed with the A's after Detroit released him in late April.
"I've never felt more like a rookie," he said with a laugh. "It's cool, a fresh start. It'll be a blast. I play to have fun, and after two minutes in the clubhouse I could tell it'll be the same here. I don't really know any of the guys, so I can mess with all of therm."
"When is he getting here?" -- Pirates closer Jason Grilli, holding up a baseball card of Brock Holt. He later admitted that he was unaware that the infielder was part of the deal that sent former closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox.
• Gerrit Cole recalled texting his congratulations to Stanford's Mark Appel when the Pirates made the fellow Pac-12 pitcher the No. 8 selection in last June's Draft. Appel, of course, declined to sign with the Bucs and on Friday made his season debut with the Cardinal. UCLA's Cole doesn't think Appel had anything against Pittsburgh, but had expected to go No. 1 and stayed in school to try regain that status.
• All Spring Training camps have pitchers fielding practice, or PFP, but the Pirates on Saturday added a new acronym to the list: CRG -- control running game -- something at which Pittsburgh batterymen need a lot of work after allowing 154 steals in 173 attempts last season.
• Saturday's first round of live batting practice was more like taking practice, with pitchers dramatically demonstrating how far they are ahead of hitters. Among those overmatching teammates were Jason Grilli, James McDonald, Jameson Taillon, Jeff Locke and Kris Johnson.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.