PITTSBURGH – Gerrit Cole sat on a stool in the cramped locker room at the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league complex in Bradenton, Fla., in late February and thought for a moment.
What, exactly, does the burly right-hander love so much about baseball? Sure, the money is great. The potential fame, too. Yet for the player considered one of the cornerstones of a franchise rebuilding itself from the ground up, the pull is much more primitive.
"I just like to just beat somebody," Cole said. "Kick somebody's (butt) really. That's what I like doing, and that's what I'm good at."
Time to prove it.
The 22-year-old will make his major-league debut tonight when the Pirates host the Giants, a moment a lifetime in the making for a player considered "can't miss" since the first time he pulled on a glove as a kid growing up in Southern California.
To be honest, it's a moment Cole hoped would happen a little sooner.
The top pick in the 2011 draft sprinted through Pittsburgh's farm system, needing just 25 starts to move from Class-A Bradenton to Triple-A Indianapolis last summer.
Yet when the Pirates decided to send him to minor-league camp halfway through spring training for more seasoning, Cole's frustration was palpable. Sorry, but 6-foot-4, 240-pound guys who can regularly pump 99-mph fastballs by overmatched hitters are used to getting their way.
There would be no pouting, however. At least not outwardly. Cole bit his lip and went to work.
"As disappointed as he was, he jumped into this with both feet," Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. "He asked a lot of questions."
Not one of them was, "When do I get out of here?" That doesn't mean Cole didn't think it, even as Pittsburgh's best start in more than 20 years quelled the drumbeat for his arrival.
This is the same player, after all, who would constantly challenge his teammates to anything and everything while playing at Lutheran Orange High School in Orange, a half-hour southeast of Los Angeles. Long toss. Batting practice. It didn't matter. Cole's drive to prove himself was relentless.
"Gerrit is one of the most competitive people I've ever coached," said Mike Grahovac, who coached Cole at Lutheran Orange and is now the head coach at Concordia University. "He doesn't like to lose at anything. That's a good quality to have. You give him the baseball, and he gets on the mound, he is a fiery guy. That's what you want."
Cole and Jameson Taillon, the second overall pick in 2010, are the future. Cole's run will begin against the defending World Series champions and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who knows a thing or two about handling the role of "phenom."
It's a tag Cole has lived with his entire life, which gives Treanor confidence his project won't be overcome by the stage when he walks onto the mound at PNC Park for the first time as a big leaguer. Cole rarely looked intimidated during his time in Indianapolis this spring, going 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA and ending his run with 14 consecutive scoreless innings.
"We tweaked the delivery a little bit, and I think over the last four or five starts, you're starting to see the guy everybody's been looking for," Treanor said.
Notes – Left-hander Eric Surkamp made his second rehabilitation start Sunday, giving up one run over two innings for the Class-A San Jose Giants. In two appearances, Surkamp, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, has given up one hit and one run in four innings and has five strikeouts.
"He's coming along really well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "The last time we were here (in Phoenix), he threw a bullpen (session), and I thought it was really impressive."
Francisco Liriano is scheduled to start for the Pirates on Wednesday. It would be his first start against the Giants since he was included in a package that brought A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco from Minnesota after the 2003 season.
The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.