BRADENTON -- Paul D. Smith stood by a large inflatable speed-pitch stand Friday evening on Old Main Street in downtown Bradenton.
Kammrin Herring, 10, walked up to him with his great grandfather, Ken Ksiazkiewicz.
Curiosity filled the boy's face. On his head was a black baseball hat with the letter "P" on it -- for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Here comes a Pirate!" a smiling Smith said to Kammrin.
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Smith, a member of the Bradenton Boosters, then gestured toward a white bucket filled with worn baseballs and picked three for Kammrin to throw. Smith and Ksiazkiewicz watched as the boy pitched one after the other.
Smith then gave Kammrin a shirt with the same "P" on it.
"We're both ball fans," the 77-year-old Ksiazkiewicz said with Kammrin under his arm. "We both like baseball."
"Yeah," Kammrin agreed shyly.
Ksiazkiewicz and Kammrin were two of hundreds of Pittsburgh Pirates fans and locals who attended the Pirates Pep Rally, an event filled with games; live music by Yesterdayze, a show band that delivered lively 1960s music; and an autograph session with players.
"We're definitely trying to get involved with the city of Bradenton, get more of the Pirates players down here," said Josh Knupp, Pittsburgh Pirates ales coordinator. "As you know, we play with the Marauders here, but this is kind of like our kickoff to get the season going and open it up in Bradenton because it all begins in Bradenton."
Down the street, the Bradenton Marauders's mascot, Marty, strolled by food trucks, vendors and nonprofit organization tables. He hugged a woman and took back his Pirates hat from another. He then hugged a boy and patted the heads of three others who stared up at him.
Several minutes before 7 p.m., more than 75 people waited for autographs from former Pirates players Michael LaValliere and Kenton Tekulve by the intersection of 12th Street West, 4th Ave West.
Karen Redmon, 56, and her husband Chuck Redmon, 58, live in Pennsylvania but are in Florida to visit Chuck's ill mother in Tavares. Whenever they visit the state, Karen said they always try to come up to Bradenton for games.
"We're just black and gold all the way through, you know. Pirates, Steelers, good years, bad years," she said. "And the last few years, it's just been fun."
Chuck Redmon showed two large baseball cards in his hands with the fresh autographs.
"It feels great," he said, looking out into the crowd of other Pirates fans. "It's just the whole atmosphere."
Later on, Pirates players Gift Ngoepe and Max Moroff sat at the autograph table and signed balls and cards.
"The community's out here and you can see the support for the Pittsburgh Pirates and they can't wait to us play in the spring training game in a couple days," the 26-year-old Ngoepe said later after he finished signing autographs. "They all come in groups, as you can see, there's a huge line of people."
He looked over at the line that now stretched halfway down the block.
"It feels good," he said.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.