Bradenton organization can't wait for first spring-training pitch

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2014 

PARRISH

When snowbird Steve McKinnon arrived in Bradenton last month, one of the first things he did was drive over to Pirate City and gaze at the ballfields.

That nobody was on them didn't matter to the thawed-out Nova Scotian.

"You get a feeling that settles over you, a feeling of renewal," said the 71-year-old Pirates Booster Club member. "It's the start of something going forward, a feeling of hope and doing even better."

There was a lot of that going around Wednesday at the annual Pirates Booster Club luncheon at River Wilderness Country Club.

Amazing what a 94-win season and the Pirates' first playoff appearance in two decades will do, not to mention outfielder Andrew McCutchen winning the National League MVP and manager Clint Hurdle, NL Manager of the Year.

"There's a different attitude this year," said John Bodnor, sporting a Pirates jersey.

"It's getting better and better and better," Nick Orlic said.

"Oh, yeah. We're hyped up," Kathy Lorenzi said.

How hyped?

After 135 booster club members snapped up tickets to the luncheon last month, sales were cut off.

They could've sold 200-plus.

"It's a good feeling to support a team that's winning," said Al Dawson, Pirate Booster Club president.

That enthusiasm should manifest itself at McKechnie Field, where the Pirates open Grapefruit League play Feb. 26 with the New York Yankees.

"We're expecting every game to be packed," Ken Magown said.

Not even the news free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett, a Pirate mainstay last season, signed with the Phillies on Wednesday dampened the spirit at the luncheon.

Nor did concerns about who will take the places of departed free agents such as first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones, right fielder Marlon Byrd and first baseman Justin Morneau.

"I've got confidence in Clint," Jack Emery said.

"We've got to do something about first base," Bob Marsh said. "But the pitching looks good. Hitting, too. They'll be decent."

"We didn't fill some slots we thought needed to be filled, but there's a sense of optimism," Bob Eby said. "We're a playoff team and deserve to be a playoff team."

After getting a taste of the postseason, Pirates Booster Club members are hungry for another trip.

"All people talked about the whole winter were the Pirates," Mike Roteman said.

"There are more expectations on them -- a lot of expectations," Patty Orlic said.

That resonates with Dawson.

"One year doesn't make up for 20 years of frustration," he said. "They've got to continue to win. If they don't, we'll be starting all over again."

Which was something Pirate pitching icon and broadcaster Steve Blass touched on during his luncheon speech.

"It's going to be interesting because the Pirates were the story around baseball most of 2013," said the former World Series hero. "It's exciting, but we've got to temper that with the fact you start from scratch -- no wins, no losses. You savor 2013, but 2014 starts dead even. It's time to go back to work."

With spring training cranking up on his watch, Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' ubiquitous senior director of Florida operations, is ready.

"It's going to be our best year ever," he said.

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

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