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03/06/12 2:00 PM EST

Bucs, McCutchen complete six-year contract

Deal covers All-Star outfielder's first two potential free-agent years

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The columnist from a New York City tabloid strolled into the clearing behind the Pirates' clubhouse, surveyed the growing media throng and observed, "It isn't every day you come to McKechnie Field and fall into a press conference -- a positive press conference."

Tuesday was that day, as the Pirates formally announced their six-year, $51.5 million agreement with center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

The second-largest contract in club history spawned arguably the largest outdoor news conference in club history, thanks to the contingent of New York reporters here to cover the afternoon's Yankees-Pirates exhibition, and the fans crowded at the edge of the right-field bleachers were treated to sounds of the occasion.

Thus, club chairman Bob Nutting, general manager Neal Huntington and McCutchen himself had a large audience for their glee, gratitude and flat-out gushing over a development all believe cemented the Pirates' near-future as a National League Central force.

"This is a huge and excellent step forward; emotionally and in every other way possible, I'm thrilled," said Nutting, using for the first of many times his adjective of the day. "We were willing to make this commitment because Andrew not only is an elite center fielder with a great future, but also a great leader in our clubhouse, an inspiration to me and others in the organization."

Huntington called it "a great day for Pittsburgh, for the Pirates organization and a great day for Andrew McCutchen."

"This was a commitment the organization was willing to make because of the person he is, the player he is -- and the player we believe he is going to become."

When the mic was thrown over to him, McCutchen smiled broadly into the sunshine and said he felt like "when you get married, and you renew your vows."

It was all he could feel at the moment.

"Man, I really haven't had time to sit back and think about what's happened," said McCutchen, who earned $452,500 last season and had a 2012 contract for $500,000 before the finalization of this contract. "It's still somewhat feels like a dream to me."

McCutchen's $500,000 salary for 2012 was supplemented with a signing bonus of $1.25 million, according to terms of the contract, which also includes salaries of $4.5 million in '13, $7.25 million in '14, $10 million in '15, $13 million in '16 and $14 million in '17. There is an '18 option for $14.75 million, with a buyout of $1 million.

"I know that it's amazing, to be blessed with the talent to perform at the Major League level and to work this deal out. I definitely wanted to be here. I grew up down the road ... you go down 64, make a left at 17, you're in my hometown [Fort Meade, Fla.]. My colors were black and gold in high school; didn't even have to change my colors. It was just meant to be."

Meant to alter the course of a franchise, to help lift it out of the morass of 19 consecutive losing seasons? On Tuesday, everyone anticipated that destiny.

"Knowing that Andrew will continue to lead the team for a bright, successful, championship future at PNC Park is a thrill for me -- the organization is in a wonderful place," said Nutting, turning to McCutchen sitting on his left. "You're going to be a critical part of that as we go forward."

"In September 2007," Huntington said, "I was hired by Bob and [club president Frank Coonelly] because we shared a vision, and a big part of that was acquiring, evaluating, developing and retaining quality individuals to create and sustain an outstanding organization, with the primary goal of putting a consistently winning team on the field.

"This is yet another important step in that process. Andrew knows what his commitment is expected to be in return."

"I want to thank you guys for what you have done," said McCutchen, accepting and welcoming the burden. "For believing in me, and in what I can do, and giving me this opportunity to showcase my talents with the Pirates."

Those words have to make the flesh of Bucs fans tingle, as will this pledge by McCutchen:

"They always say, 'Don't let it change you.' I don't believe I'll do that. I will remain the same, show up every day and give it 100 percent for my team, do everything I can to help my team win."

McCutchen did not want to delay.

"Right now, I'm just looking forward to playing those Yankees," he said, nodding toward the field where, two hours later, he would deliver a run-scoring single in the first inning off ace left-hander CC Sabathia.

The first day of the rest of Andrew McCutchen's Pirates life was off to a great start.

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.