BRADENTON -- The attendance Thursday at McKechnie Field was 5,639.
It's a nice number, but it represented the smallest crowd to hit McKechnie in about two weeks.
The venerable ballpark in downtown Bradenton has already hosted five sellouts and will witness No. 6 today when the Detroit Tigers come to town.
"The attendance has been great," said Trevor Gooby, the Pittsburgh Pirates' director of Florida operations, who said today's game was sold out by Thursday afternoon. "People are really excited about this team. Even the workouts at Pirate City, there were a lot more people there than before.
"Spring training is no longer a secret."
Records fell last spring at McKechnie, which drew its biggest total number of fans (88,003) and highest average (5,500) in its storied history. A total of 53,316 fans have flocked to nine home games this spring for an average of 5,924. If the average holds, the total attendance record would be broken by more than 800 fans.
The Pirates play six more games in Bradenton, including Monday night's meeting with the Baltimore Orioles, the only night game at McKechnie Field this spring.
The schedule has helped. On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays made the second of their three scheduled trips to Bradenton before returning March 30th. The New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox also have invaded Bradenton, and all the games resulted in sellouts.
"When the visiting teams do come," Gooby said, "they usually bring decent players."
James Shields, the Rays scheduled starter on Opening Day, has made two starts at McKechnie. The Yankees brought their starting infield of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira on March 6, while the Phillies started star lefty Cliff Lee last Friday.
And Red Sox fans got to see their own ace lefty, Jon Lester, on Wednesday, along with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and third baseman Kevin Youkilis.
The Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies don't come back, however, so time will tell if the crowds keep coming when the Pirates play teams such as the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Orioles.
Gooby, meanwhile, is hoping the enthusiasm carries over for the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates' high Single-A team that begins its third season Thursday, April 5 against the St. Lucie Mets.
The Marauders drew 103,978 fans last year, more than twice as many as they did in 2010.
"The groups who have come out for spring training, we've asked them to come out and see the Marauders," Gooby said. "We offer a good value and we're going to put a good product on the field."
OPENING DAY STARTER -- Manager Clint Hurdle said Erik Bedard will start Opening Day on April 5 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The announcement was made following the Pirates' 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. Jeff Karstens and James McDonald follow Bedard, and Kevin Correia, last year's Opening Day starter, takes the mound April 10 for the team's first road game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
BOOSTERS DONATION -- The Bradenton Boosters presented their annual donation to Pirates Charities. The club's officers presented a check for $35,000 to Pirates Senior Director of Florida Operations Trevor Gooby before Thursday's game.
The Bradenton Boosters have volunteered at Pirates Spring Training since 1969. Members of the Boosters work as ushers, program sellers, parking lot attendants and in several other roles at games. The boosters have helped fund numerous improvements to McKechnie Field and the Pirate City complex during the last 20 years.
Pirates Charities is the official philanthropic arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since its creation in 2006, Pirates Charities has donated more than $2.4 million to causes benefiting youth health, fitness and education. The money donated by the boosters will help Pirates Charities support such projects as the Fields for Kids program and the Miracle League of Manasota.