Bradenton volunteers bring veteran lineup of their own to McKechnie

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 26, 2014 

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Pittsburgh Pirate booster Fred Andrews talks with baseball fans during the Pirates' Black and Gold intrasquad game Tuesday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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BRADENTON

The Pittsburgh Pirates Black-and Gold game was just a tuneup for Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener with the New York Yankees.

But Fred Andrews was already in midseason form.

He isn't in manager Clint Hurdle's lineup, understand, but his is a familiar face every spring training at McKechnie Field.

"Remember, no Yankee hats tomorrow!" the rascally 83-years-young usher told amused fans in the reserve seats along the first base side.

That's funny coming from a guy who spent 44 years as a pressman for The New York Times.

After 21 years as an usher with the Pirates Booster Club, though, there's no question where Andrews' loyalty lies.

Like his fellow ushers, particularly the longtime veterans, being back at McKechnie Field again for the first time this year was reinvigorating.

So what if it was just an intrasquad game?

It's baseball and the boosters help make it better at the ol' ballpark on Ninth Street West.

"It's still fun, and I enjoy having fun with the fans," Andrews said. "I

haven't seen some of them in 10 months and they still come up to say, 'Hello,' 'How you doing?' I like the fans, and I think they like me."

Then with a wink, he added, "But I'm not sure."

Down the aisle, Don McKie was back at his post in front of Section 8, a familiar sight to fans who walk up the steps of the ballpark's main entrance and take a right turn toward their seats.

McKie is beginning his 27th year as an usher at McKechnie Fiel

"It keeps me young," he said.

No kidding.

McKie is 90.

"I'm getting there, but keep the weather warm, and I'll be fine," he said. "To hear the voices, the enthusiasm, it's great. As long as I feel good, I'll be right here."

So will Al Bishop, an usher for 11 years.

Tuesday was a light day for him and the other ushers -- game attendance was just 2,146 -- but McKechnie will be hopping Wednesday.

"This is our one-day shakedown. Tomorrow will be the real kicker with the Yankees," said Bishop, 75. "We've got to be spit-shined and ready to go."

Dick Davis echoed that sentiment.

It will be the 17th Grapefruit League opener for the former Pirates Booster Club president, now head of ushers, and his wife, Mary Sue.

"This is our warmup," said Davis, 80. "Everybody's on deck tomorrow. It should be a sellout, and they'll be climbing the walls and be all along the boardwalk."

More than 100 booster club members will be fanned out around McKechnie for Wednesday's 1:05 p.m. game. Besides ushers, they'll be handling parking lots, ticket taking, seat cushion sales and so forth.

Mary Sue Davis will be selling programs and she was working on her form Tuesday, holding copies overhead through the first few innings of the intrasquad game.

"My right arm will be stuck like this when I go home," she kidded.

Across the way, Ed Willeman's seat cushion concession was slow going, but the 63-year-old Pirates Booster Club member knows it will be different Wednesday.

"They'll be flying out of here," he said. "The Yankees are coming."

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

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