Hey, we’re a minor league town now

November 10, 2009 

Baseball and Bradenton go together like peanuts and cracker jack and pitchers and catchers, which is all Bradenton could expect for lo these many years.

A spring training landmark since the St. Louis Cardinals shed their winter rust in 1923, McKechnie Field remains largely empty once the Pittsburgh Pirates gather their belongings and head north to start the regular season.

That should change today when the Florida State League is expected to approve the Pirates purchase of Cincinnati’s Single-A team and relocation a few miles north to Bradenton, which means Bradenton will not only be a spring training town but a minor league city.

“I’m excited that baseball is here,” Jim Morrison said. “What a great facility McKechnie Field is. It’s a blast to go and watch a game there. It will be a nice thing to have in Bradenton.”

Morrison has a unique perspective on this subject since he is a longtime Bradenton resident, spent five springs training with the Pirates and manages the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Tampa Bay Rays entry in the FSL. So, Morrison’s triple crown of sorts gives him the experience of watching games at McKechnie, playing games at McKechnie and, beginning this April, managing games at McKechnie.

“Wonderful ballpark,” Morrison said. “It’s a good place to hit. I always hit well there.”

We’ll take his word on that, but I think we all agree with the wonderful park thing.

And it is a shame the ball yard sat empty for so many summers.

Now, there will be 70 regular season games at McKechnie, and while it will be a tad on the sweltering side in July and August, early season games will be played on postcard-perfect nights.

“Hopefully they will draw big crowds and not give in to the old axiom that it’s the Florida State League and nobody goes to games in the Florida State League,” Morrison said.

Nobody went to see the Reds play at Ed Smith Stadium, but fans flocked to the renovated Charlotte Sports Park to see Morrison’s Stone Crabs, who averaged a league-high 2,855 per game last summer. Clearwater (Phillies) drew an average of 2,493 per game and Daytona (Cubs) averaged 2,424 per night. Those teams do a terrific job of promoting the team within the community.

Morrison hopes the Pirates will do the same.

The FSL gives fans an up-close look at professional baseball and a chance to not only see but get to know the players, some of whom are on their way up. There are also fireworks and post-game concerts and in-game stunts and peanuts and cracker jack, not to mention cold beer for the older set.

“It’s user-friendly,” Morrison said.

And it’s coming to Bradenton. Finally.

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