Fans flock to McKechnie Field for Spring Training tickets

ejohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 27, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Three generations, decked in Pittsburgh Pirates gear, waited in line at McKechnie Field box office Saturday morning for the first day of Spring Training ticket sales.

People were in line as early at 6 a.m., taking advantage of free coffee, doughnuts and bagels from Dunkin' Donuts.

With chairs in hand, Tommy Thompson, Matt Hassler and 2-year-old Vonn Hassler arrived at 8:30 a.m. to join the queue. The family first became Pirates' fans because the Spring Training facility is close to home, but now they're die-hards, collecting memorabilia year after year.

"Every year, this is our tradition," Hassler said. "As I get older, I appreciate it more. It's something I want to pass on to him (Vonn). Friday night, he kept saying 'baseball tickets, baseball tickets.'"

Hassler kept an eye on his son while Thompson, legal pad in hand, made sure to get all the tickets he needs with seats in the shade.

"It's a whole process. We piece together our own season plan," Hassler said. "He gets one ticket to every game. Then we look at what games I can go to, what games other family can attend. We invite friends to the St. Patrick's Day game and night game."

Kathy Binck and Sandy Blair had a less complicated plan.

"We want Rays' tickets," Binck said. "I've become a baseball fan in the past few years and want to see the Rays play without going to

Port Charlotte."

Trevor Gooby, Pirates director of Florida operations, said the franchise has a spike in sales when tickets are first available because people want to guarantee a seat when the Yankees or Red Sox come to town. About 50 percent of people who attend the games are from out of town, Gooby estimated.

The box office is always busy on Game Day.

"We encourage people that if they want to come to a game to get tickets ahead of time," Gooby said.

Noises of construction and renovation sounded from inside the stadium as people waiting in line.

Hassler, who has attended games at McKechnie Field for 20 years, said he is excited to see the improved stadium, where workers installed chairs among other tasks Saturday morning.

"I'm really excited to see the changes and the boardwalk," Hassler said. "I think they've kept the feeling of the old stadium while updating it."

Gooby said the renovation is on schedule to finish before the first pitch is thrown next month.

"It looks like there is more to do than there really is," Gooby said of the stadium that will seat 8,500. "The boardwalk will probably be the most popular area."

The addition stretches around the outfield, overlooking the bullpen in left field, and will feature a bar and two party decks for rent. Other changes include additional seating as well as new batting cages and concession stands.

The Pirates will play an intrasquad game Feb. 22 before kicking off Spring Training against the Atlanta Braves on Feb. 24.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.

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