Sooner or later, it comes for every Pirates veteran: the moment you realize you aren't as young as you used to be. For Gary "Lefty" Hall, the realization hit home about 14 years ago.
"I bent down to pick up a case of beer and just felt something go in my back," says Hall, a 66-year-old PNC Park vendor. "I had some pain, but I continued to work. The next morning when I tried to get out of bed, I couldn't move.
"It was right at the beginning of the season and I realized I was not prepared as I should have been. And from that point on I made sure I was in shape for the job."
Hall has been on the job since 1971, when he had a day job teaching science for the Quaker Valley School District. Hall had been working a second job at J&L Steel to make ends meet, but got laid off that year.
"My brother-in-law said, 'Hey, Lefty, come on down to the ballpark, they're hiring beer guys,'" Hall remembers. "I was 22 years old and sold beer on my very first day. I remember looking down at the money I had made at the end of the night and I couldn't believe it. It was way more money than I could make from a day of teaching."
That, he says, is when it occurred to him: "Wow, I need to hold onto this job!'"
And he has, even after he retired from teaching in 1999. Today, he's the fourth-oldest vendor on PNC Park's seniority list, and the job isn't any less strenuous. In fact, he says, beer "was actually easier to sell at Three Rivers, because PNC has a lot more steps and they're a lot steeper."
Between the weight of the ice and the beer itself, "You have 50 pounds that you carry up and down the stairs for three hours a night. When you're a young guy, that's not so bad. But as I got older I realized that I have to be well-conditioned to be prepared for the rigors of a long season."
Like the rest of the team, Hall heads down to Bradenton each year to begin his own off-season conditioning program. Last November, he began swimming daily, working up to about 200 laps in a 90-minute session. In February, he began hiking and weightlifting. As part of his training regimen, he stacks 60 pounds of weight in a milk crate to duplicate his beer bin. He then lifts the crate up, swinging it out 40 times to mimic the movements he'll make over the course of the Pirates season.
Hall's been making the trip to Florida from his Beaver County home since 2000. A former college pitcher — that's where the nickname came from — he says "baseball is in my blood" and he likes seeing the team in the off-season.
Although being a vendor is a lot of work, especially for a guy in retirement, Hall plans to continue until "I physically can't do it anymore."
"I love baseball and I've rooted for the Pirates my entire life," Hall says. "And last year when the Pirates were in the post-season, it was an unbelievable scene to be a part of.
"There aren't words to describe what it was like to be a part of last season, especially that wild-card game against Cincinnati," he says. "I've seen this team in a lot of great games, but there was just a feeling in the air that left me breathless.
"So I want to keep up the conditioning so I can keep doing this job and hopefully be a part of a lot more great memories just like that."