Pirates coach Banister filling out according to script


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Before every game, Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister fills out a lineup card with penmanship so precise it would make a school teacher proud.

There is one school teacher, in particular, that he has always wanted to make proud.

Banister's meticulous handwriting is one of the traits he learned from his father, Bob, a football coach and school teacher who died 25 years ago. His dad never saw him play in the major leagues. Never saw him get married. Never saw him move up the coaching ranks in a big-league organization.

But in many ways, Banister's dad never left him.

"I hear his voice in my head, coming out of my own mouth," Banister said. "I think about him every day, miss him every day. I wish I could pick up the phone call and get that congratulatory message. Not a day goes by."

Filling out that lineup card is one of the many memories he has of his dad, who died of a heart attack at age 48 and whom Banister buried on his 23rd birthday.

When Banister was in the fourth grade, he brought home a report card with bad penmanship grades. Both his parents were teachers in the small Texas school district, and Banister's lack of effort and caring quickly frustrated them.

"Back then, school was just something I had to do during the day," Banister said. "My favorite class was recess."

So Bob Banister started to require that his son sit down every night with a Webster's dictionary and write every letter -- from words to pronunciations to definitions -- that appeared on the two open pages.

That assignment continued for an entire school year, and Jeff Banister said his dad would make him write out those dictionary pages sporadically until he got to high school.

That hard work shows up every day when Banister fills out a lineup card. Sometimes it's cursive. Sometimes it's calligraphy. It's always magnificent.

His daughter once saw a note that he wrote and assumed her mom, Banister's wife Karen, had written it. When his players first see it, they assume he has a ghostwriter.

"They're not expecting that out of a boot-wearing, blue jean-wearing country boy from Texas," Banister said.

For someone who chose baseball as a profession, there is little need for perfect penmanship. But Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Banister's attention to detail speaks to his character.

"There are no shortcuts," Huntington said. "There's no easy way to do something. It's the right way or nothing. His lineup card exemplifies his personality."

Banister had to grow up quickly in January 1988. On the afternoon of Jan. 13, he and his dad were out picking up a new set of tires that were meant as Banister's birthday gift before he left for spring training. Later that night, Banister had to make decisions he never thought would face him -- about funeral arrangements and cemetery plots and headstones.

He vividly remembers watching paramedics wheel his dad out of his house, one sitting on the stretcher performing chest compressions.

"I thought he was an invincible person," he said. "Really, I didn't think that this man could be hurt. As a kid, we all think our parents are superheroes. That's what he was to me."

Banister has a tattoo on his left forearm that is a tribute to his dad: a large cross with the date 1-13-88, the night of his dad's death.

He has thought many times this year how his dad would react to the Pirates' success.

"It would a great big hug, a handshake, congratulations, but yet, there would be a sense of leveling," Banister said. "There's still work to be done. That's how he was."

When the Pirates won their 82nd game of the year to clinch their first winning season since 1992, Banister was one of the first people Huntington saw. Huntington remembers Banister saying two things to his players.

First, congratulations.

And much the way his father, the lifelong coach, would have said to him, Banister passed on another message to his players:

"We aren't done yet."

pirates

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.


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