Since the 20th century, Pittsburgh native Margie Pappa has volunteered to work the inflatable ‘speed pitch’ at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida, for the Pirates’ home spring training games.
“I’m in my 27th year,” Pappa said. “I’ve had [kids] tell me that they’ve been in other places for their vacation and never had as good of a time as they had pitching these balls.”
Pappa earns money from the Bradenton Marauders — the Pirates’ Low-Single-A affiliate — during the summer, but she volunteers her time throughout the Pirates’ spring training.
The inflatable setup — which is located in the corner of the stadium’s fan plaza near the right-field foul pole — costs one dollar to throw three baseballs and remains open throughout the duration of each game.
There is no age limit to throw, but Pappa explains how the rules differ for kids under the age of 13.
“Up to 12 [years old], if they get the ball in the catcher’s mitt, they can win,” she said. “After 12 [years old], they have to guess their speed on the third ball.”
The prize for winning is a sponsored Pirates bag. Pappa explains how she is lenient with the game’s three-ball limit as she often offers additional throws to participants who did not win the prize on their first three attempts.
“Most times, I give them a couple more balls, and I might give them a dozen” she said. “Most of the time, the extra ball I give them goes right into the catcher’s mitt.”
Pappa justifies her forgivingness by explaining how the Pirates receive the prizes from their sponsors for free.
“The Pirates get all these prizes from advertisement people, so they’re getting them for nothing,” she said.
Pappa describes how the radar does not always register the accurate velocity as the speed can vary drastically from pitch to pitch.
“The [radar] is not that accurate,” she said. “I had a kid the other day who was throwing in the lower 30s [mph] and next thing you know it was 94 [mph]. That doesn’t happen. It don’t work right.”
Ultimately, Pappa’s favorite part of the job is teaching the kids and inspiring them to pursue their life goals.
“I love the kids, and I teach them,” Pappa said. “I tell them to say ‘I can do it.’ I try to teach them that all their life they should remember that anything that they really want to do they can do it if they tell themselves that they can do it.”
Pappa relishes her role at LECOM Park and will continue to enjoy watching kids have fun away from the action on the baseball diamond.
“At the end of the day, the kids are here to have a good time,” she said. “They compete against each other and they love it.”