Ex-Pirates leading MLB fantasy camp

BRADENTON, Fla. — Greetings from Florida where the weather obviously is much better than Altoona.

We made our annual 17-hour trek south on the Amtrak Auto Train from Lorton, VA. last Sunday afternoon, arriving in Sanford, FL. on Monday morning.

The temperature was in the 50’s for most of the early week but went up to 75 on Friday.

The train trip went off without a hitch. We actually left Lorton a little early and arrived in Sanford early, too. The car trip was OK, except for 30 miles of construction on Interstate-4 around Disney World. Construction on I-4 is endless. It’s been that way as long as we’ve been coming here and often plays havoc with traffic.

We’re staying in a new condo this year. Actually, it’s not new, but a different one, although it’s in the same area and close to a lot of things — five miles from the beach in one direction, 10 minutes from the ballpark the other way.

We’ve had dinner at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, Carmen’s Italian Cafe, Anna Maria Oyster Bar, Boston Market and Cracker Barrel and met up with Altoona friends Tom and Andrea Lane, Lee and Jeannine Fagley and Betty Wilkinson during our first week.

The Pirates held their annual fantasy camp this week where men (and a few women) reportedly pay between $4,000 and $5,000 to work out and play ballgames at Pirate City (the minor league complex) and LECOM Park (formerly known as McKechnie Field) with ex-major leaguers serving as instructors and managers.

Jean and I, along with Jack and Joan Camberg, took in some of the action at both facilities and enjoyed watching Altoona physician Jay Robinson participate. Robinson has been one of the Curve’s doctors for several seasons.

Among the ex-Pirates helping at the camp were Kent Tekulve, Steve Blass, Jack Wilson, Jim Rooker, John Candeleria, Jose Lind, Grant Jackson, Mike LaValliere, Doug Drabic, Rick Reuschel, Kevin Young and Omar Moreno.

The Pirates have made some alterations at LECOM Park since last summer, extending the dugouts and replacing the infield grass and dirt.

Spring training is less than a month away. Pirate pitchers and catchers report the middle of February and Grapefruit League action opens Saturday, Feb. 23 when the Bucs take on the Phillies in Clearwater. The Bucs’ home opener is Sunday, Feb. 24 when the Marlins visit LECOM.

The Bradenton Pirate Boosters annual luncheon is slated next Tuesday and Bill Kearney’s annual Class of 1953 luncheon is set for next Wednesday in Punta Gorda.

Until next week …

Lane, a former Mirror sports editor, writes from Florida in February and March.