Bradenton: A fond destination for longtime faithful Pirates fans

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 19, 2014 

BRADENTON

Eight-year-old Spencer O'Mealy darted hither and yon through the throng gathered at Pirate City, getting autographs.

His mom, Shannon, a professional photographer, tried to keep up, taking pictures as he went from Manny Sanguillen to Bill Virdon to Clint Barmes and Tony Sanchez.

Her parents, Debbie and Blaine Lester, relaxed nearby with Spencer's great-grandparents, Lois and Bob Barrett, listening to spring training's symphony of bats hitting balls under clear blue skies and 70 degrees.

They were among hundreds of fans on hand for the Pittsburgh Pirates first full squad workout of the year.

Devin O'Mealy took it all in with a contented smile.

"This," Spencer's 38-year-old dad said, "is heaven. Or the next best thing."

To say the family is glad to be out from under what has been a harsh winter up north is an understatement.

The Lesters' car got stuck in the snow at the Barretts' home in Johnstown, Pa., so they all piled into the Barrett car and fled south.

"We had 12 inches already and we've

got, what, 6 more since we left?" Bob Barrett said.

"It's been brutal," said Shannon O'Mealy, 38.

Her husband couldn't shovel their driveway fast enough last Friday in Long Beach, Md., so they could rendezvous here.

"I was absolutely ready go to. I fantasized about just getting out of that nasty weather and getting in some sun," said the 38-year-old high school teacher. "To be here and smell freshly cut lush green grass and hear the ball off the bat, it doesn't any better."

Had his extended family been within earshot, all would have nodded in agreement.

Well, except for Spencer, a second-grader and slick Little League shortstop who's playing hooky from school.

"He doesn't know how lucky he's got it," his grandfather said.

"It's neat that four generations can go," his grandmother said. "You don't find that very often."

Theirs has been an annual rite of spring. If it's February, they're heading to Pirate City.

"The family bleeds black and gold," Devin O'Mealy said.

The Barretts have been visiting here since 1975 and the Lesters joined them not long after.

A former assistant secretary of labor for mining under Presidents Ford and Carter, Barrett relished a rejuvenating morning in the brilliant sunshine.

"It never gets old," the 86-year-old said. "We've been here when the Pirates were at the bottom for a long time, so it's nice to have them on top."

That sentiment resonated with Blaine Lester, an administrator with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He remembered watching Bill Mazeroski's historic 1960 World Series-winning home run on black-and-white TV as a boy.

So Pirate City rekindled fond feelings.

"The sound of the ball hitting the glove brings back memories," the 63-year-old said. "Just to look at the ballfield grass, even if there were no players on it, it's emotional. It makes you feel young again."

Even if it's only for a few days.

The family heads north Saturday.

"My car probably has a foot of snow on it by now," Lester said. "But we're already booked here for next year. So we've got that to look forward to."

"Nothing like February in Florida," Devin O'Mealy said.

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

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