BRADENTON -- There will be pep aplenty Saturday at the annual Pirates Pep Rally in downtown Bradenton.
Between the buzz surrounding a winning team and brisk advance ticket sales, it's safe to say Pittsburgh Pirates fans and team officials alike are giddy about the upcoming spring training schedule.
"As long as we have good weather, this will be our best spring training ever," Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' director of Florida operations, said Thursday.
The pep rally is the unofficial kickoff to spring training and allows fans to get up close and personal with Pirates players and team personnel, including the Pirate Parrot mascot. It runs from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday on Old Main Street and will feature autograph signings, kids games, a photo booth, inflatable games and other family-friendly activities.
"It's just a great way for us to get out in the community," Gooby said. "It's a fun way to share the partnership between the city of Bradenton and the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Gooby was unsure which Pirates will make an appearance, but normally between six and 10 players show up, he said. Manager Clint Hurdle and outfielder Andrew McCutchen are expected to be on hand to accept proclamations from the city congratulating them for receiving National League Manager of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, respectively, after last year's 94-win season that ended a 21-year losing streak.
Autograph seekers will have the opportunity to purchase a limited-edition print celebrating the history of baseball in Bradenton done by Don Brandes, a professor at Ringling College of Art + Design.
About 400 11-by-17-inch prints will be available for $10 at the Realize Bradenton information tent. Each print will have a border to allow room for autographs. Poster-sized prints will be available for $150.
Realize Bradenton commissioned the painting from Brandes, a nationally known illustrator, to commemorate the city's 91-year association with Major League Baseball. The painting, entitled "Spring Training," features a time line showing the teams that have played at McKechnie Field and photos of local icons such as former Pirates manager Bill McKechnie and the Bradenton Nine Devils Negro League team.
"It's a celebration of Bradenton baseball," said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton. "It shows how excited the city is about baseball and having the Pittsburgh Pirates here.
"We did it (the print) specifically so fans could get their favorite Pirates to write around the borders. We wanted to do something that would bring art and sports together."
In May, Brandes' piece will be placed among the "Postcards" exhibit on the Riverwalk.
The Pirates' 16-game home schedule begins Feb. 25 with the Black & Gold Game, an intrasquad contest. The first Grapefruit League game is at 1:05 p.m. Feb. 26 against the New York Yankees.
Gooby said few tickets remain for three games against the Yankees, two against the Boston Red Sox and one against the Detroit Tigers. Other games are selling well, too, he said.