The 2012 magic started to happen for the Pirates early in the season. By August 8 and they were 16 games over .500 with a record of 63-47 and only 42 games left to play. The misery was finally over. The Pirates sent out playoff ticket notices the same day I sent in my 2013 camp deposit. A promise was a promise.
Before my $750 check made it to camp coordinator Joe Billetdeaux at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the threads started to show and the Pirates began to unwind like a cheap suit. They proceeded to lose 18 of their next 23 games, including a no-hit by someone named Homer Bailey of Cincinnati on September 28 and then clinched it on September 30 by blowing a ninth inning lead and losing to the Reds. It was their 82nd loss of the season and 20th straight year of failure. Incredibly they finished 79-83, making it the greatest collapse in major league baseball history from where they stood the day my check went in the mail. The Pirates truly were in an infamous class by themselves.
I e-mailed Billetdeaux. I could see the smile on Joe’s face when he replied “Read the small print. Deposits are non-refundable.”
I had designs on this Pirate camp all along as it played perfectly with my Medjet schedule and the memory of how well things were run back in 2010, now having two other camps to compare. This was a must-return on my list.
Now I am joined by 95 others at Pirate City in Bradenton anxious to put on the uniform tomorrow and re-start our careers that never happened. The opening banquet tonight was much different for me than my rookie year in 2010. I showed up for that one not knowing anyone and walking into what felt like a class reunion for a school I didn’t attend. I found out that 70 percent of campers are repeats so bonds are established.
Someone told me that coming to camp was like “a drug, you’ll see.” A 70 percent alumni rate and the fact this week can never get here soon enough has me convinced he’s right!
For some reason the Pirate campers of 2010, though not intentional, were very cliquey early on and didn’t warm right away to the newcomers. The relationships however were built as you became teammates during the week and by the end of the session six days later everyone felt like old chums.
Tonight, I knew what to expect. Also I have kept in touch with a couple of the guys from 2010 and many others were familiar faces. In fact, after I got off the plane in Tampa this morning, the first two guys I ran into were teammates of mine in 2010. And I had dinner tonight with two others that were actually teammates of mine with the Tigers two years ago that took my recommendation to try the Pirates camp.
Billetdeaux is the camp coordinator. The director is former Pirates relief ace and submarine thrower Kent Tekulve, who was ill tonight so Joe Klimchak, the in-stadium host during the season for the Pirates at PNC Park, capably pinch hit.
This week’s schedule is a little different as the Pirates normally go on a Sunday-Sunday camp week. This year the schedule was changed to Saturday-Saturday so all the rabid Steeler fans could get home to watch the Super Bowl next Sunday. Oops.
The 1960 World Championship team was represented tonight by Hall of Famer and World Series home run legend Bill Mazeroski; Vern Law, 1960 Cy Young Award winner as the best pitcher in the game with 20 wins that championship season; fleet footed center fielder Bill Virdon who was the defensive star of the World Series and Roy Face, a personal favorite of mine, who was the Pirates relief pitcher extraordinaire that season. Maz, at 76, is the junior member of the featured foursome.
Also on hand to mentor us and spin a tale or two over cocktails are former Pirates Steve Blass, John Candelaria, Dave Cash, Richie Hebner, Grant Jackson, Mike LaValliere, Omar Moreno, Bob Robertson, Don Robinson, Manny Sanguillen, Zane Smith and Bob Walk. Tomorrow two of these gents will have the honor of being my coaches for the week!
In the interim time to get some rest prior to getting things started on the field in the morning. Guys are still moving pretty nimbly but that’s subject to change real soon. Tonight is the best many of us will feel for the next week.~
As for Ibis, I tried to explain before leaving Birmingham this morning- some guys like to go hunting or camping or fishing. My week in the sun is playing baseball. Former NY Giants quarterback Phil Simms once said “you play until you physically can’t play anymore.”
I’m lucky. At 60 the clock is ticking but I can still play. I doubt Ibis understands.
By Roy Berger for PeterGreenberg.com
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