Baer: Former state House Speaker DeWeese still in the game

bdeweese
Former state Rep. Bill DeWeese is back in the Harrisburg game, out of stir since 2014, working as a lobbyist for Clear Coalition.

AS A RULE I try not to write anything about convicted politicians that anyone could construe as positive.

That's because I spend lots of time writing about politicians in ways nobody could construe as positive.

But today I offer a onetime special, a diversion, a break from the gloom of politics and the cold of winter, a little tale of Bill DeWeese at a warm and fun-drenched fantasy camp.

You may recall DeWeese: Democrat from far-southwest Greene County, 36 years a lawmaker, jailed as a lawbreaker.

Flamboyant, loquacious and (often) annoying, DeWeese won a state House seat out of the Marine Corps at 26, rose to speaker (for a two-year session), later became yet another pol sent, as they say, up river.

Now he's back in the Harrisburg game, out of stir since 2014, working as a lobbyist for Clear Coalition, representing organized labor.

But for a week last month, the 65-year-old ex-con was back in another game - at Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Camp in sunny Bradenton, Fla.

He claims three fantasy experiences: the Pennsylvania Legislature, state prison, and major-league baseball.

In Bradenton, parts of his past followed him.

For example, he said longtime Pirates announcer Steve Blass, a former pitcher who tossed two complete-game wins for the Bucs when they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series, welcomed DeWeese in buddy-busting style.

At a campers' gathering Blass asked what number DeWeese was given (yes, they get real uniforms). When someone said 1, DeWeese's high school number, Blass called out, "Next time give him 2-to-5."

(That's the sentence DeWeese drew after being convicted in 2012 of conspiracy, conflict and theft for using state employees and resources for political campaigns. He served 22 months.)

At another point, Blass told DeWeese he got a package from a Pennsylvania prison. Blass opened a UPS bag, said, "You left this there," and held up soap-on-a-rope.

Ba-da-bum.

And as campers watched a game replay featuring a flashy ice-cream-cone catch by DeWeese that denied somebody a hit, an "announcer" yelled, "You talk about robbery!"

Robbery, theft - get it? Everybody's a comedian.

DeWeese doesn't hide his prison stint. In fact on his Pirates baseball card (yes, they get their own baseball cards) he lists playing second base for Waynesburg High (where he co-captained a team to a Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League final), Wake Forest University (one season as a walk-on), and Hunlock Creek State Correctional Institution (two seasons).

When I noted prison ball is softball, he said, "In prison, softball is hardball."

The only bat was chained to the backstop so batters could swing at pitches but little else. Eight teams of 15 shared a total of 10 well-worn gloves.

He was the oldest player at Hunlock (near Wilkes-Barre): "Every once in a while, four or five guys would get in a fight, get sent to 'the hole' and I'd get to start at second base rather than coaching third."

At Bradenton, where they play two games a day, DeWeese said he hit "pretty well" but played left field ("appropriate to my politics") because a heavy-set gentleman with mobility issues took second base - saying if he played left, anything hit out there would roll all the way to the wall.

DeWeese had been at three prior Pirates camps. "I'm a passionate baseball aficionado," he said, and a lifelong Pirates fan, though he wore the number 1 in high school to honor Phillies Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn - because, DeWeese said slyly, "I was always Pennsylvania first."

According to the Baseball Almanac, no Pirates player has worn the number 1 since catcher Bill Salkeld in 1947. According to the Pirates, the number was retired after manager Billy Meyer wore it last in 1952.

Now, some clean-up.

Fantasy packages cost $3,500 to $6,000 depending on location and airfare. Upon conviction, DeWeese was hit with $142,000 in fines and restitution. Because his conviction is under appeal, such payments are not yet due.

Meanwhile, he said, he would go to fantasy camp again, noting it's a place where "there are no errors." Unlike real life, I'd note.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer