The Pittsburgh Pirates Have Many Hidden Heroes.
There are the men who play on the field every night, whose jerseys we wear, whose names we chant, whose triumphs we celebrate, whose losses we mourn. They are a special kind of hero – the ones on the baseball cards – they are members of an elite brotherhood just 750 strong who every year captivate our minds and our hearts playing a child’s game on a very grown-up stage. But for every Major League Baseball team that takes the field each night, there is another team working behind the scenes to make sure every game goes off without a hitch – for the players and the fans. They are the Hidden Heroes of baseball – and these are their stories.
For High Home Camera Operator Carl Truss, A Dream Job is Definitely Worth the Wait
Carl Truss is the epitome of a true Pittsburgh Renaissance Man. Born in McKeesport to a hardworking steelworker father, the former loading dock supervisor who reinvented himself as a videographer, moved to the Upper Hills when he married in 1984. He is a portrait photographer who hasn’t given up his desire to learn to draw, a certified SCUBA diver, frustrated motorcycle owner, father and grandfather. And, most importantly, he’s the guy who makes sure that every Pittsburgh Pirates fan in PNC Park has a clear view of the Great Pierogy Race on the scoreboard.
For the past 17 years, Truss has served as the High Home Camera Operator for the Pirates. Working from a two-story room located at nearly the end of the press box, he’s a key member of a team of four camera operators who capture the people, plays and performances that make a day at PNC complete.
Led by Manager, Game Presentation Matt Zidik, Truss and company provide the live camera shots used on the Pirates scoreboard beginning approximately one hour before game time. It’s not the job he likely envisioned he’d be doing when he entered the workforce, but it’s the one he says they’ll “have to drag me kicking and screaming away from” when retirement time comes, he laughed.
Never Stop Learning
And for a guy who turns 69 in July, it would be easy to think that retirement is looming for the mild-mannered Truss. But that would be very wrong. He started his “second act” in his 30’s, when the trucking company where he served as a loading dock supervisor went out of business. So, there’s no reason to think that Act 3 isn’t in the cards for the active and artistic father of three.
After losing his job, Truss, who was a portrait and wedding photographer in his spare time, went to Point Park University to study film.
“I was one of the oldest interns they had ever seen,” he said laughing.
He took his studies seriously, focusing on each camera operator he shadowed, learning the position and paying close attention to the director’s instructions for each role. He also took with him a work ethic instilled in him by his father, who worked in a steel mill for nearly 40-years and never turned down an extra shift.
“I would always go in early – I love coming to work early and getting everything all set up,” he said. “Plus, you always get the best parking spaces.”
A Day in the Life
He continues that practice to this day, arriving at PNC a few hours before game time with a small Igloo cooler packed with snacks, bottled water and a pack of gum. He makes notes on his timed-to-the second game production sheet – for instance, who the umpire crew chief is and what position he’s working that game. It’s important to know because he’s the guy who will make the final determination if a call is challenged – and Truss is the guy who brings those deliberations to the scoreboard for the crowd inside PNC Park.
“Our director, Matt, makes it really easy on us operators,” he said, surveying the five-page spreadsheet. “The whole control room is so amazing – those guys are very meticulous about everything, and they’re very good.”
During the May 21 Pittsburgh Pirates game versus the Washington Nationals, Truss’s pre-game duties included capturing shots of several folks on the warning track in right field honored for ALS Awareness Day, a pan of youth baseball and softball teams standing in the outfield as they’re introduced by PA Announcer Tim DeBacco, the Boy Scout Troop presenting the colors and the flag during the National Anthem.
Once the game starts, he’s the guy who captures the “heroes” as he says.
“Wherever the ball’s going, that’s who I follow. If a home run is hit, I follow the player around the bases,” he said. “My job is literally to keep my eye on the ball.”
He also captures shots of people in the crowd between innings.
“I love kids with homemade signs,” he said, “and people doing things that are exciting. This is baseball. Don’t just sit there acting bored.”
Tricks of the Trade
Having worked with the Pirates since 1986 – initially as a hand-held camera operator – Truss has gotten to know many of the people who work in the Pirates organization. He considers former pitcher and current color analyst Steve Blass a good friend and “one of the best guys I’ve known,” he said.
Blass, along with fellow color man Bob Walk, passed along a helpful tip that Truss uses to anticipate where plays are going to happen, as well as a way to stay alert during his typical five-hour stints behind the camera.
“In Fantasy Camp, Steve and Bob are always talking about ‘tells’ – the things a player does to indicate a pitch that’s coming, a position to the field they’re going to hit to, taking a lead off first base to steal…So I’m looking for all of that. A lot of times I’ll see it, but I won’t tell what I’m seeing,” he said. “It’s something I do for fun to keep my head in the game.” He’s good at it, too.
A Five-tool Videographer
While operating the High Home camera during regular season baseball games is a job in and of itself, it’s just a fraction of the total sports coverage Truss provides Pittsburgh fans. In addition to covering the Pirates, he also does hand-held camera duties for the Steelers, Riverhounds, Penguins and the Pitt Panthers. Sometimes, in fact, he’ll work a Pitt game during the day, and then head over to PNC for a Pirates game that night.
“Those are hard days, but I just love it,” he said. “Just to see those kids. You look at them and just think, these kids are up and coming and they’re out there doing the best they can to make something happen for themselves.”
Hand-held camera operation has its pluses and minuses, he related. He loves the interaction with fans it offers – especially at Penguins games – but there’s a lot more exposure to weather and wear and tear on the legs. He estimates he walks about 16,000 steps during a Steelers game, which is about eight miles, and loses three to four pounds a game.
A Baseball Fantasy
While hockey runs a close second (Truss is beyond excited for the Pens Stanley Cup run), baseball is his favorite sport. And the Pirates have always been his team – even when he was growing up in a family of Dodgers and Royals fans. “My brother used to twist my arm behind my back because I liked the Pirates,” he chuckled.
His heroes were the 1960’s era Buccos, so it’s never a chore for him to head to Florida in late January to film the annual Pirates Fantasy Camp and Spring Training, where a lot of those alums make appearances.
“Whenever I go to Fantasy Camp, it’s always a good time,” he said.
He has a favorite memory of covering the annual camp, where men and women over 30 go to live out their baseball dreams.
“Coach Tanner caught me playing around with a ball on break. He grabbed me and put me through some pitching drills. He went over holding the ball, throwing it, everything. He even made me throw at least 10 pitches. Then he told me, ‘you go ice that arm down now.’ It was great,” he said laughing.
Did that experience spark a desire in him to enroll in Fantasy Camp as a participant?
“I want to do it so bad. It just eats me up standing there with a camera and running around on the field with my camera. I keep telling guys, ‘just give me that glove for one play – something!’ ” he said smiling. “When I retire for real, maybe I’ll go out there and give it a shot.”
Just don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
Retirement? Maybe Someday…
Whether it’s the result of having such an active job or whether it enables him to be active in his job, Carl Truss leads an undeniably active lifestyle. When he isn’t beaming images from a sporting event to the scoreboards in packed arenas throughout the Burgh, he’s loathe to chill at home.
He’s tried dragonboating and rowing a crew shell, but found his place is actually underwater – SCUBA diving. He’s gone on several dives and has a trip planned to the Caribbean island of Roatan this winter. He tries to take his 2004 Yamaha Silverado motorcycle out when he can, but days off when the weather is nice are hard to come by, so he’s only put 500 miles on it, he lamented.
He still takes portraits if asked by the right person and will occasionally take his pencils out and work on drawing when the mood strikes him. But it’s clear by the way he approaches each Pirates game he covers – with a smile on his face and an unmasked enjoyment of the players and the game of baseball itself – that he’s got no plans to step away from the ballpark just yet.
“This has been a nice ride and I hope I can continue doing this as long as I’m able,” he said. “It’s a serious job, but also fun. Very few guys walk away from it.”