BRADENTON -- Back in 1978, when Rick and Judi Rickerson lived on 62nd Street in Holmes Beach, their neighbor every spring was Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.
"He rented a house on the street there," Judi Rickerson said Thursday. "He became part of our family. All the Pirates came to his house, Once, he asked us to barbecue a wild Pacific salmon he had shipped from Alaska. It was so big the head and tail stuck over the whole grill."
"We used to repair Pirate announcer Bob Prince's car," Rick Rickerson said. "But Willie drove a new Mercedes that didn't need us at all."
The Rickersons, who operated Island Auto Repair for 30-plus years on Anna Maria Island, couldn't help but think of left-fielder and first baseman Wilver Dornell "Willie" Stargell, who spent 21 years with the Pirates, as they gazed Thursday at the view from Island Auto Repair's new location at 1522 Ninth St. W., Bradenton.
As fate would have it, the Rickersons were forced to move their venerable establishment from Anna Maria Island and, with the help of longtime Bradenton body repair shop owner Ben Brewington, opened in their new home Dec. 2 directly across the street from McKechnie Field, spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Rickersons are renting four bays from Norm Klooster of Gulf Coast Auto Glass.
Stargell, who died opening day, April 9, 2001, may have hit foul balls where the Rickersons' son, Aaron, and his helper, Mark Johnson, will now work on cars.
"If Willie could see us now, he would say: 'Hey, I got your back,' " Judi Rickerson said.
Having the spirit of "Pops" at their back relieves some of the Rickerson's anxiety over the move, they said.
After more than three decades at 5608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, the Rickersons had been operating month to month without a lease for three years, Judi Rickerson said.
They were notified by building owner Barry Grooms by a letter dated Aug. 29 and received in October, that they had to be out by Dec. 1, Aaron Rickerson said.
A call to Grooms by the Herald about plans for the 5608 Marina Drive location was not immediately returned.
The Rickersons said they have heard the building will house Anna Maria Island Automotive to be run by the Grooms family.
"That's all in the past for us now," Aaron Rickerson said. "We're here now and excited about a fresh start. I've visited nearby businesses around here and they have all welcomed us into the fold."
To welcome their up to 800-strong island customer base into the fold is another matter -- one the Rickersons are working to achieve.
The name of the business has not changed in tribute to those who made it a success, Rick Rickerson said.
Also, Island Auto Repair will offer free pick-up and delivery of island cars as a way of keeping established customers, said Caroline Franco, who does advertising and public relations for the business.
The Rickersons say their philosophy remains the same in their new location.
"People are the same wherever you are," Rick Rickerson said. "If you treat them right, and we will treat them right, they will give your their business."
Island Auto Repair does every type of auto repair other than body work, the Rickersons said. The shop will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. For information, call 941-778-8277.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter at RichardDymond.