BRADENTON -- Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, spring training will begin earlier than usual in 2013.
Consequently, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have called Bradenton their spring home since 1969, will play their first Grapefruit League game at McKechnie Field at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24 against the Atlanta Braves.
The spring schedule, which was released Thursday, features 17 home games, beginning with the Pirates' intrasquad scrimmage noon on Friday, Feb. 22.
The Tampa Bay Rays make three trips to Bradenton (Feb. 27, March 7 and a split-squad on March 22), while the New York Yankees come once (March 17) and the Boston Red Sox twice (Feb. 28, March 18).
The Pirates open the Grapefruit League season against the Rays on Feb. 23 at Charlotte Sports Park.
The Pirates will also play Spain's World Baseball Classic team on March 5 and have four home games against the neighboring Baltimore Orioles, including McKechnie's lone night game March 8.
The Orioles, who reside
in Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium, were the talk of baseball last year after they made the playoffs -- and had a winning season -- for the first time since 1997.
The revamped Toronto Blue Jays, who recently acquired stars such as Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle in a massive trade with the Miami Marlins, come to McKechnie on March 13. And the Houston Astros, set to begin their first season playing in the American League, make the trip from Kissimmee on March 3.
The Philadelphia Phillies (March 4) and Minnesota Twins (March 27) also head to Bradenton.
A notable absence is the Detroit Tigers, the defending American League champions who typically draw sell-out crowds to McKechnie Field. The Pirates visit the Tigers in Lakeland for a split-squad game on March 2, but the Tigers will not head west.
Season tickets go on sale Monday, Dec. 3 and individual game tickets are available beginning 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 26.
Fans looking to purchase pre-sale Early Bird tickets will be able to do so Jan. 23-Jan. 25, a separate pre-sale for season-ticket holders will be Jan. 21-22.