Pittsburgh Pirates' pitcher Wil Crowe has a really neat connection to Cooperstown, and a baseball hall of famer, too.

With less than a dozen Grapefruit League games remaining until wins and losses count for real, when the Pittsburgh Pirates open their season on March 30th in Cincinnati, Crowe is anxious for his second full MLB campaign to get underway.

In training camp since February 15th, reporting day for all pitchers and catchers at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida, Crowe has been all business. On this day, with the visiting Toronto Blue Jays bussing it down from their training complex in Dunedin to the Pirates' LECOM Park for a 1:05 p.m. exhibition game, Crowe is one of the first to enter Pittsburgh's clubhouse.

Although not scheduled to throw today, Crowe is early to dress, and make his way to the field for the scheduled team 9:20 a.m. workout.  There are several reasons for his excitement to pull a Pirates' jersey over his head.  Aside from being on the club's 40-man roster, and expected to be among the dozen or more pitchers Pirates' skipper Derek Shelton will be taking north for opening day action with the Reds, this is Crowe's second season where he is expected to remain on the big league roster.

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Playing for the National League Central club is an honor Crowe doesn't take lightly.  He's worked hard to reach the highest level baseball has to offer.  While pitching in college for the South Carolina Gamecocks, Crowe experienced what could have potentially been  a game changer for his career options.  Like many in his same occupation, Crowe underwent Tommy John surgery.  He worked hard to overcome his pitching setback to eventually become a second-round draft pick in 2017 of the Washington Nationals.

Within four seasons, in 2020 Crowe was called up to the Nationals and saw action in three games.  Making it to the MLB level included an experience in the "Home of Baseball" - Cooperstown, New York.

Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day
BRADENTON, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 22: Wil Crowe #29 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a portrait during the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day at Pirate City on February 22, 2023 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Like so many alumni who have played ball at Cooperstown Dreams Park on Route 28 in Otsego County, some future MLB All-Stars, World Series champions, even an  American League MVP, Crowe has lasting, happy memories of his visit as a child.  From sleeping in the bunk house, to playing games amongst the 22 fields offered to campers participating in tournaments, Crowe easily remembers details of his stay in the Empire State.

"I've been to Cooperstown twice," Crowe, who along with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper Mookie Betts and Nick Castellianos participated in tournaments at Cooperstown Dreams Park, said.

After spending a couple days, first touring New York City with his family, the 200-mile drive north to Cooperstown seemed to fly by.  A visit to Cooperstown would also mean checking out the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  This is where Crowe's connection to the game's hallowed halls becomes even more exciting.

Hall of Fame pitcher Charles "Red" Ruffing is Crowe's great, great uncle.

For 22 MLB seasons (1924-1947), Ruffing made his case for baseball immortality with a permanent home in Cooperstown. A six-time all-star, a member of six World Series championship clubs (five seasons as a teammate of Babe Ruth with the New York Yankees), Ruffing won 273 games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.

Here's where the Crowe - Ruffing connection really gets interesting. Born in Granville, Illinois in 1905, Ruffing died in 1988. He is buried in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.  With all the moving around Ruffing's baseball career led him, somehow, the Crowe family in Tennessee connected with the hall of famer's travels.

Crowe is from Kingston, Tennessee, 36 miles southwest of Knoxville. He then played high school baseball at Pigeon Forge High, 35 miles southeast of Knoxville.  So, where did the Ruffings and the Crowes family tree connect?

"My mom and grandmother figured it out, explained Crowe.  "After looking into our family history, that's where the connection was made.  Red's kids reached out from my mom's email. He (Ruffing) has a cool story to tell.  What a career,".

During World War II, Ruffing served in the United States Army Air Force. Prior to serving his country and beginning his hall of fame pitching career, Ruffing lost four toes on his left foot as a result of a mining accident .  This accident occurred when Ruffing was 15-years-old.

"After knowing about him (Ruffing), when I was at the hall of fame, I took pictures of his plaque. It's cool to have a connection with him," said Crowe of his famous great, great uncle.

Both Crowe and Ruffing threw right-handed.

Reaching the big leagues was emotional for Crowe. The same can be said for the pitcher's father Tim Crowe.

"My dad played two years of D-II baseball (Milligan Universitry). It was his dream to play (in the MLB). So, when I made it, it was emotional for him," Crowe says.

Beyond the headlines of giving up Aaron Judge's 60th home run last season on September 20, and being traded in late 2020 by Washington for Josh Bell to the Pirates, Wil Crowe is proud to begin a conversation that includes Red Ruffing.

Now, that's an attention-getter. For sure.

Kristine Bellino, WIBX

Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley.  He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com. 

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