Bradenton Marauders enjoy record-setting summer

jlembo@bradenton.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Bradenton Marauders shortstop Alen Hanson fields a hard-hit ball for the out Wednesday during a 10-3 loss to the Fort Myers Miracle at McKechnie Field. TOM HUBBARD/Special to the Herald

BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Marauders have had their struggles on the field this summer.

But at the gates, the four-year-old Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates never performed better.

The Marauders drew 109,845 fans to McKechnie Field in 62 openings, breaking the mark of 103,978 set in 2011.

The previous record was set in 69 openings.

An average of 1,772 fans attended the team's home games, establishing another franchise mark.

"It's something we've been working on since we first launched the team in 2010," said Trevor Gooby, the Marauders' general manager and the Pirates director of Florida operations.

Before the start of spring training, McKechnie Field, the team's 90-year-old ballpark that has served as the Pirates' spring training home since 1969, underwent a $10 million facelift that included a 360-degree outfield boardwalk and more than 2,000 additional seats.

The renovations were a hit: Not only did the Marauders' establish new attendance records, but the Pirates lured an all-time high of 93,433 fans this spring.

"People love the stadium," said Gooby, who has been in Bradenton since 2005, "and our staff does a great job of getting the word out and bringing people to the ballpark. And people want to see the renovations, and see the new seating that we have. And people who haven't been here before want to experience the newness of it."

It doesn't hurt that the Marauders' parent club is enjoying its finest campaign in decades. The Pirates have already stopped their string of losing seasons at a record 20 and are on the cusp of reaching the postseason for the first time since 1992.

Former Marauders such as outfielder Starling Marte and pitchers Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole have been instrumental in the Pirates' resurgence, giving Gooby and his staff more opportunities to market the Marauders.

"We can say, 'Hey, last year, Gerrit Cole was on the team, and in 2010 Jeff Locke was on the team,'" Gooby said. "And we can say, 'Come out and see who the next Pirates stars are going to be.'"

The extra interest didn't translate into more wins this summer as the team post

ed a 57-77 record, the worst in the 12-team Florida State League. The Marauders endured an eight-game losing streak in April, which was a franchise record until the team went on a nine-game skid in July.

There were some highlights. Three of the franchise's top prospects -- pitcher Nick Kingham, outfielder Gregory Polanco and shortstop Alen Hanson -- were all named to the FSL All-Star game and wound up with promotions to Double-A Altoona.

Hanson mashed a three-home run during the All-Star game in Dunedin and became the second Marauder in three seasons to be named the game's most valuable player.

Outfielder Willy Garcia became the first player in team history to have six hits in a game, which he did June 24 against the St. Lucie Mets. He paced the team in home runs (16), RBIs (60) and total bases (196).

The attendance records coupled with the Pirates' success has Gooby excited about the spring and summer of 2014, especially considering the Marauders are hosting the FSL's All-Star Game.

Of course, what he really wants is for the Pirates to keep playing all through October.

"This will be the first time since I've been here that we've been able to market a successful season," Gooby said. "People have already started calling us about spring training, asking when the schedule is going to come out, and I think next year will be a year like we've never seen. And it's going to be (the Marauders) fifth year, so we're already thinking about promotions, and we're hosting the All-Star game, so we want make the city of Bradenton proud with that.

"Everything is looking positive for 2014, but we can hold off and wait until the end of October to see what the Pirates do, because that's the goal."

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