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Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Something just didn't feel right for Bill Mazeroski in the early spring of 1973.

His retirement from baseball was not abrupt. After playing in just 34 games the previous season, Mazeroski knew it was time to go. Yet, it still felt odd not to pack and head south to Pirate City and join his former teammates in camp.

"When you miss your first spring training, you feel like you're dead and gone," Mazeroski said. "There's nothing to do. I always, always, always looked forward to spring training. That's the start of the year. When that didn't happen ... gee whiz, you felt lost."

This year, as he's done the past several springs, Mazeroski, 74, found his way back to spring training. The Hall of Famer is one of four links to the Pirates' glory days who are in camp as special instructors.

Despite gimpy knees, Manny Sanguillen, 66, hunkers down every morning with the catchers. Bill Virdon, still trim and graceful at 79, tutors outfielders. Kent Tekulve, who'll turn 64 in 11 days, keeps a watchful eye when pitchers toss bullpen sessions.

Combined, the quartet has played 6,244 games, including 57 in the postseason, and won six World Series rings. Through changes in the front office and coaching staff, the Pirates have continued to invite their former standouts to camp to work as teachers and motivators.

"Those are four men who've been part of greatness," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Those men have a hunger to see this thing get real good again. That's why they're here. They want to make a difference."

Championship pedigree
The alumni instructors at Pirate City this spring have combined for more than 6,200 games played and six World Series rings:
Player Career games Playoff games World Series rings
Bill Mazeroski 2,163 12 2
Bill Virdon 1,583 7 1
Manny Sanguillen 1,448 29 2
Kent Tekulve 1,050 9 1

Sanguillen feels a duty to come back and teach younger players.

"The tradition in baseball is that way," Sanguillen said. "When I came in here (in the early 1960s), I saw a lot of guys who had been around for 30, 40 years, and they helped us a lot."

Bad knees, a sad side effect from spending decades in a catcher's crouch, limit Sanguillen's mobility. But they don't stop him. A couple of years ago, Sanguillen, disgusted by Ronny Paulino's poor effort in a drill, pushed the younger player aside and squatted behind the plate to snag a throw from the outfield.

On days when the grass fields are wet with dew and slippery, Sanguillen takes a wooden stool out with him. He occasionally rides from field to field in a motorized golf cart, which drew a laugh from Tekulve.

"There's old and real old," Tekulve said, teasing his former batterymate. "I will steal his stool every once in a while, but not his cart."

Tekulve uses some of the insight he gains about the team in the spring during the regular season, when he doubles as a television analyst. But he has a bigger motivation for returning to camp every year.

"I feel for these kids because I know how much they want to be successful," Tekulve said. "There's no better feeling than being on a team that, year in and year out, is competitive.

"The guys in recent years haven't experienced that, and they're really missing something," Tekulve said. "They're missing a part of their career that really overrides individual accomplishment, salaries and awards. I'm hoping this club can get it together and these kids can experience what I did. It's such a great feeling."

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Pirates Spring Training 2011

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