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Spring Break for Seniors
Jeff Pearlman
April 05, 1999
Retirees love the chance to work at training camps
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April 05, 1999

Spring Break For Seniors

Retirees love the chance to work at training camps

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Somewhere a shuffleboard game is waiting to be played. Nearby, to be sure, senior citizens are fishing, are watching TV, are spending lunch thinking about dinner, are wondering, How much time do I have left? Why has my life passed so quickly? Where did—

Stop! Just stop!

McKechnie Field, in Bradenton, Fla., is the preseason home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the McKechnie Field elevator rides Theora Robinson. Robinson, 81, is a former Turtle Creek, Pa., elementary schoolteacher who, come spring training, ferries players and coaches and reporters up and down, up and down, up and down. "This is so much fun," she says. She presses the 1 button. The elevator starts its descent. "The elevator isn't very challenging," she adds, "but I'm a part of something."

Spring is the season of rebirth, Florida is the state of the Fountain of Youth; baseball is as American as apple pie; and at camps across the state, senior citizens have renewed pep in their step. "Everyone needs a purpose," says Bob Ballard, 79, whose purpose with the security crew at Dodgertown in Vero Beach is to keep visiting fans out of restricted areas. "This is my way of contributing."

The jobs are simple, and so is the pay, but no one is complaining. You do not have to know baseball to work spring training. You do have to smile a lot and offer a hearty hello. The role model for this is John Quinn, 68, who oversees security for the Blue Jays in Dunedin. He is the former mayor of Concord, N.H., and a Don Zimmer look-alike. Quinn, who has lived outside Dunedin for seven years, is a five-year Jays employee whose thick New England accent makes players laugh and fans grin. "The most exciting thing was when Roger Clemens first came here," he says. "I had to escort his mother to the stadium, make sure nobody bothered her. It was hectic."

Quinn smiles because, he knows, hectic is relative. In the 1970s and early '90s, he worked along the Alaska pipeline. That was hectic. Here, Toronto outfielder Shawn Green walks by, shoots John a hearty "Hi!" and moves on. Pitcher Robert Person does the same. "I am grateful to the Good Lord for giving me such a pleasant attitude about people," he says.

Quinn does not ask for autographs for himself. "Not part of the job," he says. Every so often he ignores his rule. His younger brother, William, is suffering from leukemia, though improving lately. When the Blue Jays traded Clemens to the Yankees, John visited his brother in the hospital to give him the news. William wanted to know whom Toronto received in exchange.

"So I told him they got this scrappy second baseman named Homer Bush," John says. "My brother goes, 'With a name like Homer Bush, he's bound to be successful.' "

John does not like bothering players. The next day, however, he told Bush about his brother. The newest Jay autographed a ball: To Bill Quinn. All the Best. Homer Bush.

"What a nice kid," says John. "That really made my brother's day."

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