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Pirates fun for all

BRADENTON — The hat was pure vintage. Or, shall we say, retro.

Call it what you will. But the hat that The Rev. Don Baier was wearing Sunday was older than most of the folks attending Pirates Fest in front of McKechnie Field’s ticket office.

It was a black Pirates hat, similar to the one worn by Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and the rest of the 1979 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, with yellow stripes running across the front and a yellow P in the middle.

“I got it 20 years ago,” said Baier, a Sarasota resident and reverend at Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Church in Bradenton.

Baier is also a Pittsburgh native, which means he was in his element at Pirates Fest. Sunday marked the fourth year of the street fair, which was sponsored by Champs Sports and took place on Ninth Avenue approximately four hours before the Pirates hosted the Houston Astros.

The event lived up to its name. Pirates such as Matt Capps, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny, Adam LaRoche, Andy LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez sat at tables and signed autographs, scribbling their names on everything from trading cards to baseballs to glossy color photos.

Lines to meet the players stretched 30 to 40 folks deep, while a DJ played music — everything from Johnny Cash to the crowd-pleasing Pittsburgh Polka — and the DeSoto Crewe, complete with their pirate ship, had plenty of beads to go around.

Kids had a chance to gauge their velocity by throwing baseballs into a Pirates-colored backdrop, while a small board showed their mph, and fans were lined up to have their pictures super-imposed on a postcard of McKechnie Field. They stood in front of a green background, had their picture snapped and placed on a real scene of McKechnie.

Baier, however, was simply soaking up the atmosphere. Formerly a member of the Bradenton Pirate Booster Club, Baier had become accustomed to interacting with Pirates players on an everyday basis.

“I’ve had lunch with them, I’ve had dinner with them,” he said. “Besides, I’m past the autograph phase.”

Around him, children jumped all around the Mixon Fruit Farms bounce house, and folks dressed in Pirates garb eagerly awaited the next Pirate to walk from the clubhouse and sign some autographs.

“This is really nice,” he said.

Nicer even was the weather. McKechnie Field fell victim to steady winds and an even steadier chill last week, rendering shorts and sandals moot.

But the temperature was in the 70s Sunday, much to the delight of Baier and some of his friends from Pittsburgh.

“I think they’ll enjoy (Sunday),” he said.