He has seen some of the best of Pirates’ baseball and some of the worst.
He is the second most-tenured employee in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
As a member of the front office, Dennis DaPra is the executive vice president and general manager of PNC Park. He is responsible for all operational, service and facility management aspects associated with PNC Park.
DaPra also oversees the day-to-day operations of the Pirates’ spring training complex in Bradenton, Fla., including LECOM Park, the former McKechnie Field.
LECOM Park is home to the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League.
“We have a great working relationship with the Pirates, and Dennis is a big piece of that,” said longtime Bradenton mayor Wayne Poston. “He’s good to work with. He’s a smart guy, no question.”
In addition to the Pittsburgh and Bradenton properties, DaPra is responsible for the day-to-day operations and facility management of the team’s 46-acre Dominican Republic complex.
Behind the scenes
If one doesn’t look beyond the playing field, the name Dennis DaPra might not mean much.
While DaPra might live in anonymity closest to home, this guy is well-known in baseball circles, from Pittsburgh to Seattle.
He was a point man for Three Rivers Stadium and now PNC Park, responsible for the operations of those venues. He is revered and counted on by Major League Baseball and his peers around the league.
Make no mistake, Dennis DaPra, an Upper St. Clair resident and Peters Township High School graduate, has been, and remains, a big deal in Pirates baseball and the game in general. He is the soul of the Pirates organization.
“Dennis is a rock-solid individual,” said Jim Folk, vice president of stadium operations for the Cleveland Indians. “He is always at the forefront of thoughtful leadership.
“It’s funny, in meetings or at conferences, he sits and listens. He is rather quiet. He doesn’t say a lot. When the meeting is over or a session ends, it’s Dennis everyone seeks out to talk with. His peers and people want to know what Dennis has to say. In the hallways, Dennis is often surrounded by people wanting to hear from him and what he thinks about something.”
Still water runs deep.
“That is Dennis,” Folk said. “He takes everything in. He thinks about it and he takes action. He always keeps the best interest of the Pirates, his ballpark and the fans at the forefront of everything. And he is connected with Pittsburgh.”
It’s reasonable to suggest no one is more connected in Pittsburgh.
“Dennis is one of the most respected people who works in baseball,” said Jim Trdinich, the Pirates’ director of baseball communications. “That’s not just here in Pittsburgh, but all of Major League Baseball.
“Management staffs and directors across MLB look to Dennis for guidance. We have a long and respectful friendship going back to college. He has done so much. His job overlaps many things. He works with all of our departments. Dennis is the ultimate professional and a great person.”
DaPra worked his way up the organization. Thirty-five years later, he talks about how fortunate he was to receive an opportunity with the Pirates.
He has survived upper management and ownership changes. He works diligently to perfect the operations at PNC Park, which takes an enormous amount of networking, coordination and cooperation.
“I am fortunate to work for the team where I am from,” DaPra said. “My father was a huge baseball fan. He had season tickets.
“I was given an opportunity when I was approached about a part-time opening in the ticket office in 1985. I was asked to come back in 1986 with the ticket office, telemarketing and some other things. In ’85 and ’86, I unloaded trucks and did whatever I could to keep busy.”
As the Pirates started getting better on the field in 1987, DaPra began his ascent through the organization. Stadium operations across sports and MLB was becoming more relevant and increasingly important.
Soon, DaPra was forging a reputation and earning promotions.
He became coordinator of facilities, vice president of stadium operations, senior vice president of PNC Park and then executive vice president of the Pirates and general manager of PNC Park. DaPra deals with everything PNC Park: baseball, concerts, events. He negotiates contracts with every facet of operations.
“Things have changed immensely,” DaPra said. “There’s a lot more collaboration with MLB central. Security has heightened. Post 9/11 security certainly changed.”
The job is massive
Jimmy Sacco, who is vice president of stadium operations for the Steelers, has worked side-by-side with DaPra for much of both of their professional lives.
“I am very proud to call him friend and brother,” Sacco said. “He’s a fantastic person, the ultimate professional and ultimate family man. He is a total professional, not only with who he works for, who he works around and with, but an entire industry.
“It’s hard to have a long career with just one team. Dennis stands the test of time. It says a lot about him that he has remained and gained promotion through a lot of changes. He is an industry leader, a great role model as a professional and a great role model off the field.”
DaPra, 57, was born in Canonsburg. He and his wife, Elisa, have two children, a son Luca, and a daughter, Gabriella, and are grandparents.
He serves on the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Board of Directors for the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame. He was a past board member and is still an active member of the Stadium Managers Association and is a member of the MLB Green Initiative Committee.
DaPra is a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh Class of XV and is on the Board of Directors for Coaches vs. Cancer and is a Green Sports Alliance member.
He received the Italian Heritage Society of Pittsburgh Award in the field of sports for his involvement with the Pirates.
No one in the Pirates organization has been involved in more MLB All-Star or postseason games than DaPra. MLB often reaches out to him to assist with stadium operations for those type of events.
One of DaPra’s biggest and most comprehensive tasks was the 2006 All-Star game at PNC Park. He admits, the security detail and presence aren’t fully understood by many.
The lengths and standards he and his staff and MLB went to and established to coordinate and ensure the safety of fans, players and the city were beyond imagination.
It was a Herculean effort, to be sure.
“There was significant security in place,” DaPra said. “The perimeter was secure and it was a collaboration of federal, state and local law enforcement and security, along with the Pirates and MLB. The detail was expansive.”
Scott Schubert, Pittsburgh police chief, got to know DaPra quite well when the two worked together for that game.
“We really did get to know each other in that time,” Schubert said. “My job was to organize the public safety. We’ve done a lot of work together since. We have a very good relationship.”
Schubert was quick to point out, DaPra just doesn’t limit his relationships to his job.
“I am involved with Special Olympics and our annual Torch Run (a three-day, 50-miles a day run to the opening of the Special Olympic games in State College),” the chief said. “Dennis helps us out with the start of the run inside PNC Park at home plate. We have a little breakfast for participants and law enforcement. We then leave the stadium and begin the run. Dennis helps coordinate all of that. Those relationships open trust and opens doors.”
For love of game
At Peters Township, DaPra played football, baseball, hockey and track.
He said baseball was always a favorite but he has a passion for hockey, too.
He attended Slippery Rock University and was part of the baseball program. His freshman year, The Rock won the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA regionals. Four players were drafted off that team.
He feels fortunate to remain involved in the game.
“I’ve always loved it and I love the work I do,” DaPra said. “It still makes me feel good when publications come and rank PNC Park so high and write about the beauty of the park. I have a lot of pride in that.
“I am surrounded by good, hard-working people who are committed to the job and making PNC Park as fan-friendly as possible. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. If I didn’t have the right people around me, it wouldn’t work.”
DaPra was heavily involved with the development of PNC Park. He provides guidance and direction to others across the country in the building of other sports venues.
His main responsibilities with the Pirates are day-to-day operations of the ballpark, the enhancement of features there, the relationships with ballpark concessionaires, negotiations of all organized labor contracts and the supervision and training of PNC Park’s gameday staff.
Joe O’Toole, president of the local PSIEU that represents gameday employees, has been opposite of DaPra in negotiations. He admits, the discussions, as is normal, sometimes can get “a little heated” but said he can count on DaPra to be prepared and fair.
“We’ve always gotten along,” O’Toole said of DaPra. “He is professional, level-headed and he makes good decisions.
“Dennis is firm and he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks. But he is fair. Though talks can get heated at times, we both realize we have a job to do. We have a common respect for one another.”
The respect DaPra receives around baseball is apparent. Folk credits DaPra for taking the lead early during the pandemic to form a weekly remote meeting with ballpark operations officials to talk and discuss strategies.
“He set up weekly calls with six-to-eight of us to discuss how we are dealing with certain issues,” Folk said.
“He’s always a gracious individual. My daughter went to Duquesne and I asked Dennis to keep an eye on her. When we would come to visit, I’d ask him to recommend a good place to have dinner. He not only provided an answer, he’d give me a list who to see about parking, or who to see about reservations. The guy seemingly knows everybody.”
The pandemic and leadup to the 60-game season that is to get underway later this month has been most challenging for DaPra. In his 35 years with the Pirates and 33 years in stadium operations, he has not seen anything like it.
“It’s a fluid process,” DaPra said. “There are definite health and safety protocols we must adhere to – MLB, state, county and city. We implement the procedures but each day brings potentially a change to the procedures. You have to pivot immediately as an organization. It’s on us.
“The attention to detail and the coordination is beyond any all-star, postseason or World Series game. This is a highly intense and detail-driven approach.”