Prospect Emsley-Pai embraces the rise of the Pirates

Minor league catcher recognizes special atmosphere building in Pittsburgh

BRADENTON, Fla.- Kawika Emsley-Pai has been around baseball a while and he knows a good thing when he sees it.

The 25-year-old catcher from Seattle, who is entering his fifth minor-league season with his second team, views the Pittsburgh Pirates as an organization on the rise with the team coming off its first postseason appearance since 1992.

Kawika Emsley-Pai
Kawika Emsley-Pai (Emsley-Pai)

Emsley-Pai, originally a 10th round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 out of Lewis-Clark State College, credits the Pirates for changing his mindset since signing with the team three years ago.

“Growing up I just played the game because I loved it,” said Emsley-Pai. “With this organization they really preach being a student of the game, just the way they talk and what they demand of us.”

The Pirates farmhand, who hit .189 at Single-A West Virginia with an impressive .379 on-base percentage, is very complimentary of the attitude the team has tried to instill in him since his arrival.

However, the difference in the atmosphere around the whole franchise since the MLB club broke its streak of losing seasons is palpable to Emsley-Pai and others coming up through the minor-league ranks.

“We watched highlight videos and it just gives us goose bumps,” he said. “We want to be a part of that.”

The young backstop feels one of the things that makes the Pirates special is their emphasis on team solidarity in the minor leagues, a place where individual goals can come first.

“In this organization we really do try to become a team,” he said. “We really emphasize ‘we’ and not ‘me’. The older guys do a good job of getting on guys about a certain attitude… we’re not shy with each other, we’ll call each other out.”

Another point of emphasis at the Pirates spring training complex is knowing the franchise’s storied history. Every practice field is named after an all-time Pirates great and the clubhouse contains a Wall of Fame that players see daily. According to Emsley-Pai, the message sinks in for players at camp.

“We know the history, knowing that history gives me honour to wear the Pirates logo on my chest.

“It makes me earn the respect because those guys played the right way and I just want to respect them by playing the game the right way as well.”

The combination of the rich history of the Pirates and the success they are currently enjoying is a potent one in Emsley-Pai’s eyes . The catching prospect thinks he is in the right place to win going forward.

“We never go into anything thinking, ‘I hope to succeed’. We expect to succeed and we expect to win.”