Bradenton's McKechnie Field charm has been improved and expanded

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 24, 2013 

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Fans watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play Friday at the recently renovated McKechnie Field. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

GJEFFERIES@BRADENTON.COM Buy Photo

BRADENTON

So what does $10 million in renovations look like at McKechnie Field?

Step right this way, folks.

You're in for a pleasant surprise after you pass through the main gate at our grand ol' ballyard on Ninth Street West.

Just remember to bring your baseball glove.

It'll be handy, especially where we're going.

One of the first changes you'll notice as you follow the crowd straight ahead is the absence of the old concessions behind the first-base side of the main grandstand, the ones that had lines

of fans queued up more than a dozen deep.

Not anymore.

Those concessions have been relocated to your right and expanded along what is now a spacious fan plaza decorated by palm trees and tables and lounge chairs. There are more bathrooms, too.

The old batting cages are gone, too, so there's even more room for the Yuengling Plaza Bar and portable carts selling various food specialties.

With hot dog and beverage in hand, we continue on, climbing a new wooden staircase just beyond the right field grandstands.

Or we can take the new elevator.

Either way, we're about to cross a threshold onto the masterpiece of McKechnie's multimillion-dollar upgrade that will definitely grab hold of your attention.

Calling it a boardwalk sells it short.

At 19,000 square feet, it's more like an vast wooden deck that borders the outfield and provides fans with an entirely different vantage point of the ballpark.

The 360-degree look is worth every dime.

There's the home team's bullpen below as you enter the boardwalk and all that beautifully groomed outfield grass spread before you.

Fans can take it all in from any of 30 high-top tables with chairs aligning the boardwalk.

There are more high chairs tucked along the handsome wooden outfield railing with a shelf to park your beverage.

Or your baseball glove.

Better keep it handy, too.

Balls that once flew harmlessly over the old right field wall?

They're going to be landing on the deck.

Or on your noggin.

Or in your beer.

Which brings us to the Kona Brewing Co. tiki hut, a 60-seat bar.

Located on the boardwalk behind right center, it figures to be a home run in itself.

A standup triple at the very least.

Though it promises to draw a thirsty throng, there is enough room to linger and watch the game or navigate the bar area and continue through the Center Field Commissary Building passageway.

There the left field stretch of the boardwalk awaits with more portable vendors for corndogs, Italian ices, kettle corn, pretzels and beverages.

Just beyond is a new covered bleachers section for 570 fans.

Along the wooden left field railing before it are half-moon tables with high-top chairs with a clear view of left field -- and the visitor's bullpen below.

Perfect for heckling opposing pitchers.

Perish the thought!

Working our way down the boardwalk, it takes a hard left that brings you to a covered split-level patio with more high-top tables and chairs.

It's a cool spot where you can kick back, socialize and enjoy the game.

A word to the wise, though.

The section hugs the left field foul line and is within range of foul ball line drives that are bound to scatter patio partiers.

A member of Bradenton's finest already has a nickname for it:

"Rocket Alley."

Better bring a batting helmet with that baseball glove.

Leaving the boardwalk, you head toward the third-base side of the familiar part of cozy McKechnie that's upgraded with all new baseball-style flip-up chairs and cupholders.

Permanent roofing has been restored above the infield seating along the first- and third-base sides, too.

There isn't a bad seat in the ballpark -- 8,500 of them now, 2,000 more than before.

Standing-room-only is going to be pretty sweet, too.

Think we'll head back to the boardwalk after we grab another hot dog and beverage from the original third-base side concessions.

Don't forget the glove.

Play ball!

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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