BRADENTON -- The Pittsburgh Pirates' 2012 exhibition season officially began at 1:07 p.m. Sunday at McKechnie Field.
But not before the baseball gods gave their marching orders:
-- Sun. Warm up a bit to 67 degrees.
-- Diamond. Begin to sparkle magically with Pirate yellow jerseys against green grass.
-- New baseballs. Smack against wood bats and get sucked up into leather.
-- Announcer. Play The Boys Are Back in Town over the loud speakers.
-- Ball park. Let your palm trees sway with sunlight along the outfield fence, Let your baseball flags ripple. Let your stands be a palette of color from fans wearing all manner of baseball caps and jerseys.
-- Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston. Walk to the mound, wind up and throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
-- Katie Ducharme. Sing Oh Canada beautifully for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans and The Star Spangled Banner equally as skillfully for the Pirates and their fans.
-- Jenna Fournier. Dance The Chicken Dance with the Pirate Parrot.
-- Local attorney Mark Barnebey. Sit behind home plate with your niece, Emily Ellrick, 12, and get set for Marty the Marauder to hug your head.
-- Vendors Ray and Regina Stutzin and Brian Bir. Sell, sell, sell, nachos and kettle corn for the large first-day crowd.
-- Fans. Journey from far and near to get to the ballgame. Traveling from Pittsburgh were Mike and Sue Repine and George, Kim, Josh, T.J. and Alexis Dailey. They all begin to whisper in unison, I believe. I believe, I believe.
-- Ballplayers. Be heroes to youngsters.
-- Now. Spring training begin.
Another season. Renewed hope.
Mike and Sue Repine, decked out Pirate attire, were the first fans in the park at around 10 a.m. Sunday. They are season ticket holders in Pittsburgh.
I became a fan when I was seven or eight-years-old, said the 65-year-old Mike Repine.
Repine reverently remembers the 1971 Pirates, also known as The Lumber Company.
That team, behind hitters Willie Pops Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Richie Hebner, Manny Sanguillen and pitchers Doc Ellis and Steve Blass, won the World Series.
They shook the stadium, Sue Repine said of the 71 Pirates.
Fans were buying pictures of The Lumber Company at memorabilia dealers booths set up underneath the stands Sunday.
That 1971 team scored about seven or eight runs a game so there was less pressure on the pitchers, Repine said. With the team we have now, our pitcher has to nearly throw a shut-out for us to win.
I even go back farther to Dick Groat, Elroy Face, Matty Alou, Roman Mejas and Bill Mazeroski, Repine added. Those were the days. We listened to Bob Prince broadcast the games on KDKA.
So, whats it like for diehard Pirate fans to withstand about two decades with no Lumber Company?
Its been sad, Mike Repine said. But once you are a diehard Pirate fan, you are always a diehard Pirate fan.
The Repines call this years team, Hurdles Kids, and they believe there is a chance for a repeat of last years mid-summer first place surprise if all the young players can meld.
If they all stick together and play together and all play up to their potential, it could work, Mike Repine said.
George and Kim Dailey from South Hills in Pittsburgh had their three children, Alexis, 14, T.J. 12 and Josh, 9, at Sundays first game of spring.
This is about the third year weve come down to Holmes Beach to see the Pirates, the 46-year-old George Dailey said. I go back to Stargell and Clemente.
Josh Dailey was wearing a shirt that said Maz on the back while T.J.s shirt had, Walker on the back.
Maz hit the homer that beat the Yankees in 1960, Josh said when asked if he knew who Mazerowski was.
T.J. was wearing present day Pirate Neil Walkers shirt because both are infielders, said George Dailey, who is a Pittsburgh policeman.
Note to the Pirates: Both T.J. and Josh expect to be pro ballplayers one day.
Little boys dream comes true.
Matthew Szuba, 8, who lives near Pittsburgh, has leukemia. He was at the Pirate game Sunday with his parents, Ed and Shari, as part of a Make A Wish Foundation trip.
Matthew, whose cancer is in remission, got to Disneyworld a few days ago and saw Mickey Mouse and Cinderellas castle.
But Sunday was maybe even better because he got his picture taken with Marty the Marauder, the Pittsburgh Parrot and Pirate pitchers Daniel McCutcheon and Jo Jo Reyes and Pirate first baseman Garrett Jones.
All of the ballplayers were extremely kind to Matthew, Ed Szuba said.
There is something special about ballplayers, Ed Szuba said. Theyre beefier than us. They have muscles.
And perhaps they inspire dreams every spring.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.