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Pirates’ Booster Club prepared to ‘Play ball!’

BRADENTON — Henry Perry can’t wait for Opening Day.

Neither can Eileen Dailey.

Ditto for Bruce and Alberta Wegner.

They were among the Pirates’ Booster Club members at Wednesday’s annual luncheon at Bradenton Country Club, and after hearing guest speaker Chuck Tanner they were raring to go for McKechnie Field’s spring training opener Feb. 25 against the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

“This is what we all look forward to,” said Perry, the president of the booster club’s 197 members.

“Excited? We all are,” said Dailey, who works in the ticket office.

“We love the fans,” said Alberta Wegner, a main gate ticket taker.

Tanner acknowledged as much from the podium.

“You people are the core,” said the former Pirates’ manager, now a senior adviser to the team. “The Pirates are blessed. McKechnie Field and Pirates City are the finest baseball facilities in the state of Florida, and you’re the reason why it all works.”

Tanner regaled the audience with stories from his stint (1977-1985) as Pittsburgh Pirates manager, including one about Willie “Pop” Stargell, the iconic first baseman and steadying hand of the 1979 World Series champions.

It was a late-season game against the Cubs at Three Rivers Stadium, Tanner said.

“Willie had an easy throw to third and threw it in the stands,” he recalled. “Later the baseball writers asked what happened and Willie told them, ‘I saw (Steelers owner Art Rooney) up in the box and in case Terry Bradshaw gets hurt, I wanted to show him what kind of arm I had.’ ”

The Pirates will have 21 home games at McKechnie, more than the 15 to 17 they’ve averaged in the past.

That’s because of the World Baseball Classic, March 5-23.

“Rather than rushing players into spring training, then the WBC and rush back into the start of the regular season, baseball added a couple more weeks for teams to be ready,” said A.J. Grant, the Pirates’ Florida operations manager. “Usually we’re sold out of reserved seating (4,000) at McKechnie by Feb. 1, but we have more available because of the extra games.”

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