Courtesy of Moon Golf Club

Garth Brooks slides into spring … for Clemente


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Garth Brooks has a voice and a glove, and they're both good. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

BRADENTON, Fla. -- "Hey, what'chu gonna sing to me?" Corey Dickerson pretty much laughed out at his third baseman while trotting toward left field on the Pirates' reporting day for spring training.

Ordinarily, that would be some pretty basic banter between teammates in the most relaxed of baseball environments. Guys having fun crooning in the sun. This time, though, the resident Gold Glover was talking to, uh, the resident country music legend.

Garth Brooks.

"All blues, baby!" Brooks shot right back, beaming as bright as the setting itself. "Want to take some third base with me?"

Brooks got into position to field a grounder, fielded it and tossed it to Tom Prince, who was manning first base for the man slinging baseballs instead of platinum albums.

[caption id="attachment_773333" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

The next ball came ... and went right under the outstretched glove of this 57-year-old rookie.

"I can't blame that on a short glove like the last time," as he presumably recalled a prior experience fielding grounders.

Make no mistake, though. The errors were an anomaly.

Brooks is known for his voice, but he can sure impress in the field living a glorified version of a fantasy camp some real deal spring training. Just head back to the top of this story and take a look at the effort he gave while shagging fly balls -- sliding to get under that one and making the catch in Dickerson's territory, just like the Pirates' two Gold Glovers at that position this decade, Starling Marte being the other.

"As long as it ends up in my glove, whatever that takes," Brooks told me of his sliding effort. "It's not the sliding part, it's the gettin' up part now at my age that's the tough part."

He'd wind up being as playful with the assembled media as he was with Dickerson in the field, especially when it comes to, uh, having last say over the photos of him that run:

Brooks looked like he was having as much fun as possible suiting up in a big-league uniform to take the field with professionals on a team he grew up rooting for. Yep, you read that right: Garth Brooks grew up a Pirates fan. But more on that in a minute.

[caption id="attachment_773364" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

That's Brooks, in his spring Pirates' gear, sharing a laugh with Prince on the mound after finishing his session taking grounders in the infield. Looks like a baseball player, honestly.

You might be asking now, "Why is Garth Brooks doing this, and why is he wearing a Pirates uniform?"

Well, for starters, Brooks is here for the 20th anniversary of his Teammates for Kids foundation. Teammates for Kids raises money donated by professional athletes through performance incentives to help give children around the world an even start in life.

How's that work? Well, a power hitter might donate x-amount of dollars for every trip he takes around the base paths over the course of a season, pitchers for strikeouts, and so on. The program works with athletes from each of the four major sports in the United States, and has expanded to include golf, auto racing and rodeo. They've worked with well over 4,000 players and raised over $100 million for kids in over 60 countries during that time, and it all started with baseball 20 years ago.

Which explains why Brooks is back on the diamond.

[caption id="attachment_773386" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

"This is the proudest thing I've ever been a part of," Brooks spoke of the charity initiative in front of the locker stall bearing his name and the No. 46. "Other than the day I married my wife and had my three girls, this is the most important thing in my life."

The part of this story and journey that will be of particular interest to Pirates fans is that Brooks was inspired by the work of Roberto Clemente.

"The Bucs are sweet enough to let me come here because this has been my team since I was a kid," he said. "So, I'm a Roberto Clemente fan. The day he died, I promised him that I would do something with foundation work in baseball. This came really late in my life, but I feel very lucky and now we're celebrating 20 years. Here's to 20 more."

Wow. Talk about a powerful connection you didn't expect to hear on the first day of spring training.

Our Dejan Kovacevic followed up on that, of course:

So, if you're not a country music or Garth Brooks fan, that right there is probably reason enough to connect with the man on a very Pittsburgh level.

As for me, well ... I was walking back through the clubhouse to find a shooting location with Dejan and record an episode of Morning Java. That's when Brooks stopped us to take a look at the photo. He grabbed my phone, zoomed in, handed the phone back and joked that the airbrushes wouldn't be able to save the photo, so I'd need to delete it. All in jest, of course, but we will see who gets last laugh when there's an 8x10 print coming to him in the clubhouse tomorrow.

I guess now's as good a time as any to remind that, in baseball, no one is above grabbing the bucket and collecting the balls under the Florida sun:

[caption id="attachment_773391" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

He actually sprinted over to beat two minor-leaguers to that duty.


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