As a kid growing up in Brookline, Jimmie Sacco always was hanging around sports facilities. And for good reason. His dad, Vincent, was an usher for more than 30 years at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium. And his uncle, Sam Marini, ran the manual green scoreboard in left field at Forbes Field.
It's probably no surprise that Sacco would go on to work at Three Rivers Stadium and two of the other biggest professional sports venues in the city -- Civic Arena and Heinz Field. And he did more than just work there. He managed them into viable entertainment facilities that did more than just house the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates.
"It's been a really great honor for me to be in my hometown and be able to work with great organizations in my hometown," Sacco said. "Most people in this industry move away and hope they get back home eventually. I've been really lucky to be involved in two Stanley Cups and three Super Bowls and also be involved in an NHL All-Star Game, a baseball All-Star Game and all those AFC championship games."
For the past 12 years, Sacco, 57, has been director of stadium management at Heinz Field, overseeing the operation from the day the facility became the new home of the Steelers. In that time, Heinz Field has evolved into more than just the centerpiece of the entertainment and business development on the North Shore; it has become a multi-purpose venue for outdoor summer concerts, car shows and approximately 275 wedding, banquets and charity events a year.
For his direction, Sacco will receive the Dr. Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award at the 77th annual Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
"I'm happy to say we're on the map with all the biggest buildings in the NFL and we're probably the biggest with concerts and other events," Sacco said. "With the number of events we do, it is second to none. Yes, we're the home of the Steelers and [Pitt] Panthers, but people want to do their events here. We're tops in that. That's a lot to be proud of. It's turned into a pretty good destination."
One of Sacco's biggest thrills was luring the NHL's Winter Classic to Heinz Field in January 2011. When he was vice president of operations at the Civic Arena, the Penguins played host to the 1989 NHL All-Star game, a significant moment for one of the oldest facilities in the league.
But, to Sacco, that did not compare to staging the Winter Classic -- the league's signature event -- in just its fourth year of existence.
"That was something where we immediately talked to Art about it, convincing him we could do that in the middle of football season," Sacco said, referring to Steelers president Art Rooney II. "I'd have to say, in my career, other than the AFC championship games, that was the premier event, not only for us but for the whole city and community."
Sacco got started on his professional path when he worked in security and operations at the Civic Arena after graduating from Robert Morris College. He eventually was promoted to vice president of operations by Penguins president Paul Martha, who was in charge of the franchise and building that were owned by the DeBartolo Corp.
After the Penguins won their second Stanley Cup in 1991, Sacco left the Civic Arena to become general manager of Three Rivers Stadium. He was hired by former mayor Sophie Masloff and entrusted with bringing more outside events to the facility, which opened in 1970 and housed the Steelers and Pirates.
But, nearly 10 years later, Sacco joined the Steelers to manage their new home -- Heinz Field. And he has never left.
"I've been fortunate to work with good people and good organizations all my life -- the Penguins, the DeBartolos and Paul Martha; and now the Rooneys," Sacco said. "Eddie DeBartolo is up for the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame this year. Mr. [Dan] Rooney and the Chief [Art Rooney Sr.] are already in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully. Eddie gets elected."
Sacco has also been involved with the development of hotels, restaurants, bars and office space along the corridor that stretches from Heinz Field to PNC Park. One of those eateries, Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, even has a steak named after him on the menu.
The opening of Stage AE -- an indoor/outdoor concert facility -- has enhanced the entertainment options on the North Shore. So will the proposed Toby Keith Bar & Grill that will feature live country music.
"Growing up in this industry, loafing at Forbes Field or the Civic Arena, I never thought 30 years later I'd be doing what I'm doing," Sacco said. "I wouldn't trade this for anything. My job is exciting. Every day it's something different. It's just terrific. I've had a great run and it's been fun."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @gerrydulac.