Pirates a Highlight of Annual Spring Training Trip

For the fifth straight year a group of baseball fans arrived in Brandenton, Florida, the spring training site of the Pittsburgh Pirates to take in five pre-season games, three of which involved the Buccos.

In addition to the Pirates, the other Major Leaguers where the Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Before I go any further, the Pirates won two games with the other game being tied after after nine innings. Spring training games are usually called after nine innings when the game is deadlocked.

Like any other tour, we had other things on our agenda, and I will get some them taken care of before getting into the baseball side of our venture.

Having arrived in Brandenton at 10 a.m., we had to kill some time before we could check into the resort motel and it was ironic that our leader Bill Bryson, of Ohio Valley Travel, would choose Pirate City where the Pirate “farm hands” are engaged in training, some of whom later in the day would be taking on a Altanta Braves Minor League team.

It just so happened that literally next door to Pirate City is Mixon’s Fruit Farms, which not only provided us a lunch, but gave us tour on the Orange Blossom Express Tram and in addition to the fruit farm we visited a wildlife rescue property to get a close up of where they have a variety of rescued animals.

After unloading our gear, it was off to LECOM Park for a 6 p.m., contest between the host Pirates and Tampa Bay.

However, prior to the start of the game, a special event took place involving Steve Blass, who has been one of the Pirates’ announcers during spring training. Pirate officials, along with the mayor of Bradenton, took part in the event which included the renaming of the television booth at LECOM in Blass’ honor. By the way, I just so happened to be in the general vicinity of this event — with my camera.

Day No. 2 took us to Tampa, the home of George Steinbrenner Stadium, where of course is the spring training home of the Yankees. It was the first time we had been there, which brought us to 12 the number of spring training sites we had visited. This stadium is located across from Raymond James Professional Football Stadium.

Our second “Picnic on the Porch,” the first being at LEMCO Park on Day 1, was at Port Charlotte, which is an unincorporated community listed in 2015 by Forbes Magazine as being one of the 25 best places to retire to. Our food servers that day are called “Fan Host” and they did an outstanding job. It was at this location that our “team” members came away with eight balls, some of which were hit during batting practice and others were tossed our way by Pirate bullpen pitchers who happened to be located on the ground level next to us.

Let’s get back to some of the other events that happened at the ballgames.

If you have never been to spring training, I’ll tell you that things are quite different than at a regular season game. Your seats are closer to the playing field, which brings the players closer to you as well. One example is the signing of autographs. When the players leave the dugout after their day is over, they usually find autograph seekers waiting along the way. One of the fan favorites is Francisco Cevelli, and I noticed on one of the game days, a group of 60 waiting for his autograph, one of which was Dana McCausland of our “team.”

It just so happened that Dennis Dutton, one of our travelers from the Washington, Pa., had some friends who in turn were friends of Greg Brown. As it turned out, Brown knew that Dutton was at the ball park and he invited Dutton to come up to see the “Steve Blass Television Booth,” along with three others, which turned out to be Dick Burig, Bryson and myself. When we got there, Bob Walk was getting ready for the broadcast that day, and prior to leaving, in came Blass.

Any Yankee fan would have liked to have been at the Toronto-Yankees game, as the Yankees won by a score of 17-7. The game included nine home runs, six by the Yankees and three by the Blue Jays.

Our final game involved the Tigers against the Phillies at Clearwater. There were four former Pirates in the two lineups: Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer for the Tigers and Andrew McCutcheon and Sean Rodriguez for the Tigers. The Phillies lineup included recently signed Bruce Harper. A Phillies game could not be played without mascot Phanatic, who by the way has outstanding range launching hot dogs into the stands. Just ask my wife, Linda, who took one on the arm for the “team.”

The final day took us to Disney World’s “‘DisneySprings” for dinner.

One other attraction in addition to the games was a trip to Sarasota, where The Ringling Art and Circus Museums are located. The Ringling Legacy combines the beauty of art, power of performance, and spectacle of the circus with the grandeur of a historic home, all set within the wonder of nature. It celebrates the legacy of circus owner and art collector John Ringling and his wife, Mable, who first purchased the property in 1911. Since that time, the property has been developed into one of the top visitor attractions in Florida and is one of the largest university art centers in the United States.

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Applications are available at nine Cameron area businesses/organization for those wishing to sign up to purchase an American Flag which will be a part of the third annual “Field of Flags.”

Applications can be obtained at the Bridge Street Restaurant, Cameron Drug Store, Cameron Country Hardware, Cameron Floral, Dragon Mart, Bob Tab’s Restaurant, American Legion Post No. 18, Cameron Moose and Aston’s in Pleasant Valley.

The deadline for returning the applications will be May 1.

The flags/name plates will be on display from May 22-29 at the Veterans Park in Cameron.

The “Field of Flags” is an opportunity for anyone, not just Cameron area residents, to honor a veteran (past or present) on Memorial Day. The cost is $5 per flag.

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Three Marshall County students, fifth grader Riley Polsinelli from Washington Lands Elementary, seventh grader Bailey Sebroski from Moundsville Middle School, and seventh grader Grace Gatts from Sherrard Middle School, have advanced to the National Geographic Society in the West Virginia National Geographic GeoBee and have been invited to compete at the state contest on March 29 at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown.

Local GeoBees were held in schools with fourth through eighth grade students throughout the state to determine each schools champion. School champions then took a qualifying test, which they submitted to the National Geographic Society.

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The OVAC is seeking players, coaches, support staff and cheerleaders from the 1994 Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Classic.

Those who fall into these categories are to contact reunion coordinator Chuck Taskalines by calling or texting at 304-639-6318, or via email at marshallcoump@yahoo.com.

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