Bradenton ballpark lights shine brightly on Carl Weeks

vmannix@bradenton.comAugust 1, 2013 

BRADENTON

When 8-year-old Carl Weeks began playing baseball at the original Bradenton Boys Club on Ninth Street West many moons ago, he had one goal.

Get good enough to play with the 11- and 12-year-old boys on the club's No. 1 field under the lights.

"It was the highlight of your 'career,'" he said.

That was 1957.

• The Brooklyn Dodgers were headed to Los Angeles.

• The Russians launched Sputnik 2.

• Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" opened nationally.

Fast forward 56 years and, though those Boys Club ballfields are gone, Weeks, now a grandfather, experienced another memorable, poignant and deserving moment under the lights at neighboring McKechnie Field Tuesday evening.

There the 64-year-old right-hander threw out the first pitch and basked in the adulation of 1,472 people saluting the retiring Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County president at the Bradenton Marauders game for Carl Weeks Night.

"It's surreal," he said afterward. "I never dreamed of this happening, but it completes the circle for me."

Weeks wore a No. 42 jersey signifying the years he's worked with the club, including 13 as its chief executive officer.

It was his night, all right.

"We were thrilled to honor Carl and show our gratitude for everything he has done," said Trevor Gooby, Pittsburgh Pirates senior director of Florida operations. "He's a hero to the children of Manatee County."

Besides the first pitch, Weeks participated in the kids' shoe race and

pony hop in between innings.

"I'm going to grow old, but I don't think I'm going grow up," he said. "To still be young at heart, that's my strength."

Yet there were moments of melancholy amidst the handshakes and hugs, especially from those whose lives Weeks helped change.

Like Palmetto High School graduate Briana Griffin,

"I call him my 'Grandpa," said the University of West Florida freshman. "I was hurt when I found out he was retiring because I've known him so long and he's done so much for me. I've grown through the club and become a better person because of him."

Weeks heard similar sentiments throughout the night.

"It's humbling," he said. "After all these years at the end of the day, what difference did I make? I think I have and I thank God for giving me the strength to do it."

His retirement was set for month's end, but he will remain through October to assist his successor.

No Carl Weeks? Tough to contemplate.

"Carl can't be replaced," said Tim Knowles, a longtime friend and club board member. "He was a club kid who's done it all from playing ball to being the guy signing checks.

"He's set the mold for what we need to do here and brought this organization forward. His level of credibility in the community is unsurpassed. Whoever comes behind him has shoes they really can't fill. They'll just have to fashion some new ones."

That hit home for Willie Cooper, hired by Weeks 40 years ago.

"All I've ever known is the Boys & Girls Club and Carl Weeks. They go hand in hand," said the Palmetto club director. "Whenever I'm out in the community and I tell people I'm with the Boys & Girls Club, the first name they say is 'Carl Weeks.' He's going to be missed."

But he's not ready for the recliner yet, understand.

"I'm going to stay involved, continue to do something and it's going to be productive and hopefully it's going to be for our community's kids," Weeks said. "I will never let go of that."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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