BRADENTON -- At the Pittsburgh Pirates’ third annual pep rally Saturday, dozens of fans plopped their baseball cards, baseballs and other memorabilia on a table for players to sign.
But Joe Kovalovsky had nothing to put on the table. Instead, he gave the players his back.
“Sign the shirt,” he said over his shoulder.
Kovalovsky, of Ford City, Penn., was among the dozens of Pirates fans who attended the pep rally at Old Main Street.
Kovalovsky said he’s been at all three pep rallies, and “they’re getting better and better.”
Last year, he had the same yellow shirt signed that he wore Saturday. But his wife washed it, of course.
White, gold and black balloons decorated the street. A man in stilts juggled black plastic baseball bats as he towered over the crowd. Rally-goers snapped photos with the team’s mascots, Pirate Parrot and Captain Jolly Roger. The song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” was played.
Some fans wore black and gold beads. Others were decked out in Pirates caps and shirts.
A line was formed before 5 p.m. as fans waited to get autographs.
David Rowe, who works as a security guard at Pirate City, was in line, hoping to have three baseballs signed.
Although he’s seen the players at their training facility, “I can’t do this because I’m working,” Rowe said.
On Friday, Rowe said there were 460 people who showed up to Pirate City.
Lee Fagley, of Bradenton, was also in line with some items, including a bobble head.
“We’re excited about the new team,” Fagley said. “We’ve had some bad years.”
Fagley has had season tickets for 14 years. “I hope there’s 14 more,” he said, smiling.
Jack Chambers, of Livingston, N.J., said he and his 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old twin sons arrived one day before spring training at Pirate City began. While they’re in town, they visit family in Bradenton.
Chambers carried a binder filled with photographs of his kids and Pirates players. Among the players: Rudy Owens, Gerrit Cole and James McDonald.
On Friday, Chambers said A.J. Burnett, who recently joined the Pirates, was “an absolute gentleman.” He signed his autograph for Chambers’s kids and then told the crowd at Pirate City, “Is there anyone else that didn’t get a signature?”
“When you come here, it’s such a family atmosphere,” Chambers said. “It’s amazing.”
At the signing table, players such as Charlie Morton, Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud wrote their John Hancocks over and over again. Former Pirates pitcher Steve Blass was also at the rally.
Some longtime Pirates fans were also present, including Jim Martin, a Bradenton resident for 17 years. Originally from Slippery Rock, Penn., he’s been a Pirates fan all his life, Martin said.
“It’s nice to see all the Pirates fans coming together,” he said. “This is nice.”
During the pep rally, Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said a few words.
“We’re happy to be back in Bradenton, the southern home for the Pittsburgh Pirates,” he said, later adding, “As my daughter said, ‘We’re gonna be more better this year.’”