Volunteers give Pirates a boost in Bradenton
By Bob Cohn
Published: Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, 11:08 p.m.
During Pirates season, Tom Sanders stands guard outside the visitors' clubhouse at PNC Park, shielding its inhabitants from the uninvited and the uncredentialed. But Sanders' current outpost is Bradenton, Fla., where more immediate tasks await.
Spring training isn't just for the players and fans.
A white-haired former teacher and librarian known as “The Colonel,” Sanders, 66, of Bethel Park belongs to a volunteer army of retirees who work at Pirate City and McKechnie Field. They are part of the Bradenton Pirates Boosters.
The boosters have about 210 members, most of whom will staff ticket booths and admission gates, hawk seat cushions and assist and advise fans, among other duties, during exhibition games. For those assigned to the sprawling Pirate City complex and its four full fields (and three half-fields), the work began earlier. Pitchers and catchers report Monday.
The boosters come from all over the country and Canada, many from Pittsburgh — devoted Pirates' followers who remember the good years and now endure the lean ones. They still love the game and their team.
And they still work for free. All of their wages go to charity.
“If you appreciate baseball at all, you think it's heaven,” Sanders said.
“We've got retired judges who take tickets. We've got lawyers and doctors,” said boosters president Al Dawson, 77, of East Liverpool, Ohio. “They just want to be involved.”
The boosters are believed to be the only spring training workforce that receives no payment. Known by different names in the past, they have been a fixture since the Pirates moved their spring operations from Fort Myers, Fla., in 1969.
That was the year Lloyd Fait, a certified master baker from Greensburg, first headed south. He got to know some of the players such as Bob Robertson, the big first baseman, and helped out John Hallahan, the club's equipment man for 50 years.
“I told John I had a bakery in Somerset,” Fait said, adding that the disclosure led to his bringing pastries into the clubhouse on home Sundays during the season.
After retiring in 2000, Fait, 69, joined the boosters. He has worked as an usher and in the bullpen and handled pregame security details.
“It's the only reason I'm here,” he said. “I don't go to the beach. I don't go to the casinos. I'm here strictly because the Pirates are here.”
Until the Feb. 24 exhibition home opener at McKechnie Field, Pirate City will be where the action is.
“This is one of the few teams where you can go into any practice area and sit on a bench and listen to the coaches and players talking,” Sanders said. “They're switching fields. You can literally sit there and listen to a coach teaching.”
Starting Monday, Sanders will brief his crew at 7:30 each morning. He makes schedules for 40 workers, ensuring that each gets two days a week on the job. Clad in their white polo shirts and khaki shorts, the boosters check IDs to permit the right people to get to the right places, “but they're mainly there to meet and greet the guests, answer questions and give directions,” Sanders said. “A lot of people are coming for the first time, and they're coming from all over.”
McKechnie Field's recent $10 million renovation includes 2,000 more seats (capacity is now 8,500) and a 19,000-square-foot boardwalk. The added facilities will increase the number of workers.
“They like the access and the sense of family they get from this,” stadium operations manager Kris Koch said. “They're working with the same people every year. There's a social component to it. ... They take a lot pride in the Pirates. Tradition is a big thing with them.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BCohn_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Biertempfel: Kendall’s book offers inside look at life in majors
- Pirates notebook: Catcher Stewart activated; Sanchez demoted
- Davis embraces new opportunity with Pirates
- Pirates minor league notebook: Mt. Lebanon grad keeping steady approach
- Bucco Blog: Travis Sawchik
- Stats Corner: Pirates’ Volquez cruising through innings
- Pair of Braun homers spells defeat for Pirates
- Pirates trade for Mets first baseman Davis
- Pirates notebook: Wandy Rodriguez experiencing decline in fastball velocity
- Alvarez struggles as Pirates fall short against Brewers
- Pirates notebook: Players show support for Franklin Regional