Mike Roteman loves baseball. To do what he does on a daily basis — for free — he’s got to love the game. During spring training, which this year runs between Feb. 11 and March 23, Roteman and his 181 fellow volunteers will work seven days a week in Bradenton, Florida, as Bradenton Boosters, ensuring optimal fan experiences at Pirate City and LECOM Park.
There are a lot of tricks to making sure someone has a great day at the park, explained Roteman, a Mt. Lebanon resident who winters in Florida. If somebody comes to a game wearing a Duquesne University T-shirt or a Slippery Rock hat, “I will kibbitz with them,” or if someone needs help finding a seat, Roteman or other volunteers guide the way. Other booster practices include giving foul balls to kids or helping guests get pictures with players.
“We volunteer because we love baseball. We love working with the fans. It has nothing to do with pay. We do not accept tips,” he said.
Roteman, 72, has participated with the Bradenton Boosters, a Pittsburgh Pirates spring training fixture since 1969, for almost a decade. Whereas other major league baseball teams employ paid ushers, greeters, program sellers or the like, the Pirates have been relying on the boosters to fill these tasks for nearly half a century.
“We continue to volunteer, which saves the Pirates a lot of money, and it’s very fulfilling to the Boosters. We all love doing what we do.”
Most days, Roteman and the Boosters arrive at Pirate City or LECOM Park around 9 a.m. and stay until 4:30. Breakfast, which typically consists of juice, coffee and donuts, is provided by the Pirates. Lunch, also compliments of the team, is usually Domino’s Pizza or sandwiches from Jersey Mike’s Subs or Chick-Fil-A. A staff room with water and fountain drinks is available throughout the day, explained Roteman.
“They make sure we’re taken care of. It’s really a two-way relationship.”
Other perks include an annual welcome breakfast and separate luncheon — the latter costs $20 to attend and is held at “a really nice restaurant.” There is also a pep rally, a catered beach party, a chartered bus trip to Fort Myers to see the Pirates play an opposing team and an end-of-the-season picnic in Pittsburgh. Also occurring up north, for three days in June, “the Pirates provide one of the World Series suites to us and we watch the games, and they feed us and we have a really good time.”
Roteman has been president of the group for two years. The position, much like volunteering with the Boosters in general, doesn’t afford much time to watching baseball. Rather, it’s a chance to be around the game and enjoy its inherently social elements.
“Most of the Boosters who come, they’re not from Bradenton. They’re from up north from places like Pittsburgh and even as far away as Canada … so they come from far and wide, and I’ve made many friends as a result of the Boosters.” They are always looking for new members, he added, and there are no gender or age restrictions.
Spring training still possesses an element of charm unseen during the regular season, said Roteman, who has authored baseball-related articles and novels.
“If you’d go to a game at PNC Park, people want to see the Pirates win at all costs. If the Pirates are playing poorly, they boo and carry on, but that’s not the case in Florida. A lot of times people who come to spring training games are on vacation. They’re going to Florida, it’s an opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the players and they’re able to really have a good time.”
This is where the Boosters step in. By being congenial and facilitating great memories, they make the experience that much better, Roteman said.
“We’re always looking to make the experience for the fans, and especially for the kids, one that they will always remember.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.