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Country music legend Garth Brooks pitch perfect with Pirates in spring training | TribLIVE.com
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Country music legend Garth Brooks pitch perfect with Pirates in spring training

Kevin Gorman

BRADENTON, Fla. – Corey Dickerson didn’t recognize the newcomer taking batting practice right away on Monday at Pirate City but the Gold Glove winner didn’t mind sharing space with him in left field.

Country music legend Garth Brooks, the first artist to have seven albums reach diamond status in the U.S., was dealing with a different diamond while participating in spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I didn’t know he was going to be here until I got out there,” Dickerson said. “I remember me and my brother growing up as kids during his heyday. It was really cool to see somebody at such a high level in their industry. I’m going to try to pick his brain the next few days to see what he does well.

The 57-year-old singer and songwriter is with the Pirates to celebrate the 20 th anniversary of his Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million for charities for children. The foundation pairs with professional athletes, and its alumni includes former Pirates catcher Jason Kendall.

“It’s the proudest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Brooks said at his locker stall, situated next to Pirates ace Jameson Taillon. “Other than the day I married my wife and I had my three girls, this is the most important thing in my life.”

Brooks previously played in spring training for the San Diego Padres (1989), New York Mets (2000) and Kansas City Royals (’04). Brooks reminisced about getting booed by Yankees fans for wearing a Mets jersey while singing a “Shameless” duet with Billy Joel at a concert at Shea Stadium, so he has no worries about his reception from fans.

“The Bucs were sweet enough to let me come here because this has been my team since I was a kid,” Brooks said. “I’m a Roberto Clemente fan. The day he died I promised him I’d do something with foundation work with baseball. This came really late in my life but I feel really lucky we’re celebrating 20 years. Here’s to 20 more.”

Playing with the Pirates will help Brooks prepare for his stadium tour, which begins in March and includes a concert May 18 at Heinz Field. He took batting practice – surprising Pirates players by switch hitting – and fielded grounders and shagged flies in left field.

“As a celebrity, they haven’t cut me yet so we’ll see,” Brooks said, with a laugh. “You’ve got to use your advantages, you know. Before you could crowd the plate all you want because nobody wanted to hit you. You haven’t got speed. You haven’t got fielding. You haven’t got hitting. So use the other thing you’ve got.”

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Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.