Pirate Parrot pays tribute to pal's dad

Pirate Parrot pays tribute to pal's dad

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirate Parrot will be taking not to the air but to the pavement, as he sets out on an ambitious cross-state journey that is bound to bring attention to the organization, but designed to bring awareness to something much greater.

It will all kick off on June 28, when the Pittsburgh mascot will hop on a Can-am Spyder motorcycle at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex to embark on a 350-mile journey back to Pittsburgh. A 'Cruise for the Cure,' it's being called.

The Parrot, along with his best friend and mascot coordinator, Alex Collins, began kicking around the idea of such a ride about five years ago. But the planning process, which included getting the blessing of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and state police department, took significant time to finalize.

Mosites Motorsports willingly agreed to lend the motorcycle. A route, one that will avoid the Pennsylvania Turnpike in order to keep speed down, was mapped out. The date was chosen so that the Parrot's return to Pittsburgh would coincide with the start of a Pirates-Phillies four-game series.

And all of a sudden, an idea had become an event.

"The whole reason to do this was to do something that's bigger than the character," Collins said. "It was to make the character realize that life in general is bigger than anything you can individually do."

The initial idea may have come out of the Parrot's desire to take on a project that was beyond any sort of normal ballpark or community appearance. But events in his best friend's life have made the upcoming ride about so much more than gaining media exposure.

Seventeen years ago, Collins' dad, Jeff, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Jeff underwent immediate surgery, which doctors told him would likely cure the disease. Nevertheless, the prostate cancer returned 14 years later, this time spreading up his spine.

Dealing now with Stage IV prostate cancer, Jeff underwent months of chemotherapy, a process that ended just last month. From afar -- Jeff and his wife, Marilyn, reside in Indianapolis -- Alex watched prostate cancer slowly take much life and energy out of his father. It should come as no surprise, then, that Alex had one cause on his mind when it came time to determine what charity organization this bike ride would support.

"When I first came up with the idea, prostate cancer wasn't on my mind like it was now," Alex said. "To say we're doing this to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer is just as big as the ride itself."

All money raised from the ride will be donated to the Western Pennsylvania Prostate Cancer Foundation, where it will be used to help fund and bring awareness to prostate cancer research.

In other words, the Parrot's journey will, in large part, be undertaken for Alex's dad.

"For me, it's something for my dad to be proud of," Alex said of being integrally involved in the planning process. "It's something for my dad to be able to say, 'Look at what my son was a part of.'"

Jeff's health continues to hinder him from leaving his home often, though he continues to be actively involved in a local cancer support group. As a result, he likely won't be able to travel to Pennsylvania to see the Parrot end his trek at PNC Park. But that doesn't lessen the personal touch of the three-day affair.

"It is really special," said Jeff, once a motorcycle rider himself. "I feel so lucky that I have so many people with me as I deal with this."

Both father and son are anxious to see the how much money is donated and the degree of awareness this bike ride brings to prostate cancer. The Pirates have set up a website where fans can make a one-time flat donation or offer a per-mile pledge.

Stops are planned in State College and Altoona, both home to Pittsburgh affiliates, where the Parrot will be collecting money and attending community events.

While the immediate goal of this event is to aid prostate cancer research, Alex Collins isn't expecting this to be a one-and-done type of undertaking. He envisions this becoming a yearly event, ultimately seeing the Parrot make a multi-state trek that includes either a starting or ending point in Bradenton, Fla.

The core of the event, the meaning behind it, though, won't waver.

"You realize the things in life you take for granted and your life being one of those things," Alex said. "For me being able to support Dad with everything that he's going through and to do something that's creative and way out there to show him that I can support him, that's the most important thing."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.