Spring time in Florida means Spring Training for many of the MLB teams. Bradenton and Sarasota are home to two pro teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton and the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota. If you’re a fan of baseball the spring games are great to go to. They’re cheap, the weather is great, you’re up close to the field, and it doesn’t matter who wins because it doesn’t count.
My entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, mom and dad…) are from Altoona, Pennsylvania which is about 2 hours east of Pittsburgh. So even though I grew up in Ohio I was brought up to be a Pittsburgh fan. When I was younger my brothers and I would go into Altoona during the summers to spend time with our grandparents. During that week we always made it to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh to catch a ballgame. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s the Pirates had some good teams. Bonilla, Bonds, and Van Slyke were the stars and for several years they always had a shot to win the pennant. Times have changed and under different ownership the club hasn’t been very good for several years, but I still try to make it to at least 1 spring game. The atmosphere is just wonderful. The sun is out, the games are cheap, the players are up close and sign autographs, and catching a foul ball is always a possibility.
I remember years ago (mid 90’s) before I moved to Florida my family and I would vacation in Melbourne, FL. At that time the Florida Marlins were the local team and played up the road in Viera. That day the Marlins were playing the Houston Astros, but the game had more meaning to us because an old Pirate favorite, Bobby Bonilla, was now a Marlin and we wanted to see him. That was the year as some say the Marlins bought their championship as they stacked their roster spending millions on every top free agent available. I to this day remember how neat it was being on top of the field and watching Jeff Bagwell of the Astros running sprints up and down the third base line during the game. Those kind of random things just don’t happen during the regular season.
When I’m out and about in Sarasota or Bradenton I see a lot of Pittsburgh bumper stickers, license plates, t-shirts, and other merchandise. I immediately get excited because they root for the same teams as I do, but also remind myself I’m living in the same town where the Pirates play in the spring. The question I have is how many of these people moved from the Pittsburgh area and purchased real estate in Bradenton to continue to follow their hometown team in the spring time? Some of us can be quite fanatical about “our teams”.
Some fun facts about McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL
This information is from Baseballpilgrimages.com
The McKechnie Field Report
• Ballpark Address: 1611 9th Street W Bradenton, FL 34205
• Ticket Office: 941-748-4610
• Located about a mile from downtown Bradenton in a residential neighborhood at the intersection of 17th Ave. and 9th St.
• Named after Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, a Pittsburgh native and former Bradenton resident.
• Opened in 1923 as the spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals.
• Has hosted Pittsburgh Pirates spring training since 1969.
• Major renovations were completed in 1993 under the guidance of the Pittsburgh-based L.D. Astorino Companies architectural firm.
McKechnie Field Seating
• Capacity: 6,602
• There are three main covered grandstands – one behind home plate and one along each baseline.
• All box and reserved seats are painted green and bucket style.
• Fairly sizeable metal bleacher sections are down the left and right field lines.
• There is no berm.
Only in Bradenton…
• Because the dugouts at McKechnie are small, the manager and coaching staffs of the Pirates and visitors actually sit on wooden benches next to the dugout.
• The Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County is located next door to McKechnie Field and complimentary bleacher seats for club members are available beyond the left field fence, directly behind where the pitchers sit in the visitor’s bullpen.
• Since 1979, members of the Bradenton Boosters have volunteered as the Pirates spring training game-day staff. The booster club’s 120 members serve as ushers, program sellers, security personnel, merchandise sellers, and press box attendants.
Facts and Figures
• There are no official parking lots, but plenty of $5-10 parking options at local businesses. The largest lot belongs to the Boys & Girls Club and is located behind center field.
• The spring training attendance record for a season was set in 2009 when 90,728 fans saw a game at McKechnie. The per game average attendance record of 5,198 was set in 2008.
• The Pirates play their games at McKechnie Field, but don’t actually train there. The team trains five miles away at Pirate City.
• The Pirates tenure in Bradenton (40 years) ranks third in longevity among teams that currently hold spring training in Florida. Only the Tigers in Lakeland (64 years) and the Phillies in Clearwater (63) have been in their respective cities longer.
• The Pirates began using variable ticket pricing in 2007, when tickets for games against the Braves, Indians, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees cost an extra $1.