Curve owner Bob Lozinak is living a dream that began when he was about 12 years old.
Lozinak clearly recalls a regular routine he enjoyed as a child growing up in Altoona. He and a cousin, Adrian Visocky, would attend early weekend Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and then hustle out in time to catch the 6:05 a.m. train to Pittsburgh. Once there, they'd make their way over to Forbes Field in time to see their favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, play an afternoon game.
"And in those days," Lozinak said, "there were a lot of doubleheaders."
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Altoona Curve owner Bob Lozinak attends Saturday’s exhibition game between the Curve and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
They'd take the last train back and get home by 1 a.m.
Some 60 years later, Lozinak finds himself as the owner of the Altoona Curve, having bought the team in 1999, selling it in 2002 and then reacquiring it in 2008. He also previously owned minor league teams in Albuquerque, N.M., and western Tennessee.
One of his prouder moments came Saturday when the Pirates were here for an exhibition game before 10,000-plus fans - a franchise attendance record - at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Lozinak took time out to chat with the Mirror's Neil Rudel for a Monday Spotlight Q&A.
Mirror: What does having the Pirates here mean to the Curve?
Lozinak: I think it's the greatest thing that's ever happened. I know we had the Pirates once before , but that didn't have the meaning it has this time, at least to me. There are so many more players of the current Pirates who played here. That has deep roots to me. I think this time around it proves the relationship is a great one. The Pirates are grateful, and so are we.
Mirror: Is it hard to believe it's been 15 years since you bought the team?
Lozinak: Unbelievable. Where does time go?
Mirror: How involved are you in the day-to-day operations?
Lozinak: If they have an idea, I'm the first guy they call. As far as executing it, I'm not the one anymore. We have a good communication system between [General Manager] Rob [Egan] and [Chief Operating Officer] David [Lozinak] and all the others on the staff. Nobody has any surprises when something's being done.
Mirror: How do you keep the concept fresh, particularly in the early portions of the season when weather plays a key role?
Lozinak: That's a tough one for everybody. You get an automatic boost if it's a beautiful day and an automatic setback if it's cold and rainy. When I go to the ballpark, I sometimes say, "Why are so many people here? It's lousy out." But it goes back to the deep roots and the number of generations of Pirate fans in this area - and they haven't seen a championship in 30 years.
Mirror: Has the leadership torch been passed within the Lozinak family and how is that transition going?
Lozinak: David is extremely responsible for what goes on. But Rob is very much in tune to what we're doing, and he's a tremendous asset to the team, and we recognize that. But the torch is passed. It's going to be like osmosis. [Wife] Joan will never say she's retiring. She wasn't brought up that way, and I wasn't either.
Mirror: Has living a lifelong dream with getting a minor league franchise here in your hometown matched or exceeded your expectations?
Lozinak: It has exceeded my expectations because of the fans that support this team - and I think it's growing. It's a slow growth, but when you look at other cities and their support, there's been an erosion in some other places. We try to be grateful to the fans and give them a good experience and make sure the food is good. Last year, a scout walked in from Seattle and said, "I've been told when you go to Altoona, you make sure you have a Curve burger." And the guy was 85 years old. So our attitude is it's got to be good. A lot of it comes from [Senior Adviser] Sal [Baglieri] and I in the McDonald's background. We're always worried about what the consumer eats. (Editor's note: At this point, Lozinak credited the Altoona Mirror and its coverage, calling it "a tremendous asset to us. You don't see that in other places.")
Mirror: How much is the Pirates success, or lack thereof, affecting enthusiasm toward the Curve?
Lozinak: I've often wondered that. The universal response from our fans is the players are learning here, and we someday hope to see them as great major leaguers.
Mirror: What other minor league teams or ballparks do you emulate?
Lozinak: I like the atmosphere in Reading. The people there do a great job. The facility has some obstructions to it that doesn't make it so good as far as the seating. They have great creativity as far as keeping the atmosphere up, but I still think we've got them beat.
Mirror: Living in Maryland, how many games do you get to a year?
Lozinak: About 50 of the 70, mostly on the weekends. We do a lot of Thursday through Monday. And we also catch up with the team in Harrisburg and Reading.
Mirror: How do you see the future for Blair County and central Pennsylvania sustaining a Double-A team and a 71-game home schedule?
Lozinak: Somebody asked me if the recession has hit Altoona. I said no - that it happened in 1950 and we haven't gotten out of it yet. Who knows what next week is going to bring? With the economy today, you never know, but I think we'll do as well as anybody.
Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com