Country music star in camp for a good cause

BRADENTON, Fla. — “Now batting for the Pirates, third baseman Garth Brooks!”

No, that’s not going to happen, but the country music singing legend has signed a contract and is working out with the Pirates at their spring training complex in Pirate City.

It’s not the first time Brooks has worn a big-league uniform and attended spring training. Actually, it’s the fourth time. He attended the Padres’ camp in 1999, Then he worked out with the Mets in 2000 and the Royals in 2004.

This is the 20th anniversary of Brooks’ charity foundation “Teammates for Kids.” The foundation pairs kids with pro athletes and has raised over $100 million over the years. Athletes donate based on performance levels.

“It’s the greatest sport on the planet,” Brooks replied when asked why he chose baseball for his charity.

And, why the Pirates?

“They were my favorite team growing up,” the 57-year-old Oklahoma native said. “I had a picture of Roberto Clemente on my wall when I was a kid.”

Brooks reported to Pirates camp last Monday and will work out with the team, fielding grounders at third base and shagging fly balls in the outfield, until Feb. 21 when his contract expires. The Pirates’ first exhibition game is Feb. 23 so Brooks won’t be around then, but he’s made friends with several players and posed for pictures and signed countless autographs for fans.

Pirate players were not told the singing star would be in camp until he arrived, but no one has drawn as much favorable attention as Brooks this week.

“I went out to the field to take some flyballs and the guy didn’t look familiar,” Pirate left fielder Corey Dickerson said. “Then it hit me. It’s really cool. I grew up listening to his music.”

Smile for the camera

A TV star? On Tuesday, I was interviewed by Channel 9 (All-day news Tampa) and Jack Camberg was interviewed by Channel 11 (ABC Tampa) to discuss the Garth Brooks visit. We and our friends enjoyed watching the tube that night.

Everybody’s here

Pitchers and catchers reported to camp early in the week and were joined by position players Friday. Jean and Joan got a good jump on their autographing by landing Brooks (surprise!), Josh Bell, Jung Ho Kang, Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier.

I had a nice chat with former Curve shortstop Cole Tucker, who is here trying to make an early impression. To me, he’s one of the most cordial young men ever to wear a Curve uniform.

Curve owner Bob Lozinak and senior advisor Sal Baglieri were seen watching workouts at Pirate City recently, along with super fan David Orr, Alan and Phyllis Schaffranek of Portage, Richard and Kay McGraw of Martinsburg, Dr. Dennis Murray, Bob Duffett,and Mike Folcarelli .

Add to the restaurant list: Metro Diner, Keke’s Breakfast Cafe, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, Outback Steak House (Valentine’s Day) and the Red Barn.

Until next week …

Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.

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