The season that began on Monday was accompanied by that rarest of Pirates’ attributes _ expectations.

“It’s a different feeling,” centerfielder and reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutcheon acknowledged. “Everybody knows what we’re capable of doing. It’s not, ‘I wonder what we’re going to do this year?’ It’s more of, ‘Alright, we know what we’re going to do. Now, let’s go out there and do it.’”

The winning season a year ago and the 2013 postseason have changed the Pirates’ dynamic and the Pirates’ landscape, at least in terms of the Pirates’ perceptions of such. And those developments will have to be managed as expertly as the starting rotation and late-inning situations.

Fortunately for the Pirates, they have the reigning National League Manager of the Year at their disposal.

And Clint Hurdle knows better than anyone how to manage his ever-changing relationship with his players as they continue to grow and recognize the raising of the bar along with the raising of the Jolly Roger.

“I think in any type of relationship, another year spent together through opportunity, through changes, through success you get to know one another better,” Hurdle explained. “I have a role and responsibility to play here but I’m very mindful of the fact I’m watching these men grow up in front of the city as well as the coaching staff, myself. Very comfortable in throwing the keys to the car and saying ‘take me for a ride.’

“And you don’t get in the front seat, you don’t put on three seat belts, you don’t put on a helmet and you don’t close your eyes. They’re going to dent the car. The car’s going to go off the road. You get the car back on the road, you get the dents fixed and you go.”

It sounds as if Hurdle will be willing to tolerate mistakes and failure while pushing the envelope individually and collectively, and as if his players are aware they’ll be afforded ample opportunity to grow from mistakes and failure as they attempt to get better individually and collectively.

“They know I trust them,” Hurdle maintained. “They know the coaching staff trusts them. There are times when you love them. There are times when that term ‘tough love’ comes up. We’ve kind of flipped it here; we call it ‘love tough.’ There’s always room for improvement and instruction.  We’ve grown together along those lines. They’ve helped me grow. They’ve given me different perspective, as well.

“It’s been an enjoyable experience to date and we’re looking forward to another year of it. And tactically, I do think it plays out. There are times in a game when the radar gun doesn’t measure what you want to measure, a statistic doesn’t measure what you want to measure. And one of the concepts we did spend some time on this spring is how do you honor things that can’t be measured? I think we have a very good grasp of that moving forward, as well.”

Through all of that the Pirates intend to do even more than they did a season ago.

They haven’t just recognized those raised expectations, they’ve embraced them.

The reigning National League Manager of the Year wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We want to play longer,” Hurdle insisted. “We’ve still got more to accomplish. We knocked down some mile makers along the way. We’re not looking to sustain or maintain anything; we’re looking to get better. We need to be better than we were last year if we want to get to the goals we want to accomplish this year, winning a division, winning a World Series.

“We’re looking for excellence, not success, because success is comparing yourself to someone else. Excellence is being the best you can be and that’s what we’re looking to do this year is to be the best team that we can be.

“We feel confident that if that is accomplished everything is going to end up really, really good for everybody.”