Businesses, fans benefit from start of Pirates preseason

Baseball, Bradenton, beer, Buccos combine for a busy opening day

mjohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 26, 2014 

BRADENTON -- It wouldn't be a stretch to say that opening day at McKechnie Field sold at least one local home, put a spotlight on Bradenton-brewed beer, and swamped a few local business people with all the customers they could handle.

For more than two hours prior to Wednesday's game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees, thousands of fans heading for the ballpark packed the streets, sidewalks, and barstools in the neighborhoods around McKechnie. That was fine with neighborhood businesses that had been waiting for baseball season to start.

"It means a tremendous amount to us," said Denise Tschida, co-owner of Motorworks Brewing, Bradenton's newest craft-beer house.

"People going to the game are getting exposure to Motorworks."

The economic activity evident on opening day is expected to continue through the Pirates' 16 home preseason games. A 2009 study of the 16-team Grapefruit Lead showed that it injected $752 million into the Florida economy, or about $47 million per team.

By noon, every seat at the brewery's bar was full, mostly by the design of the people sitting there. Anna Maria Island residents Brian Kisluk and Monica Fraser decided to combine their first opening-day game with their first visit to Motorworks.

"It's great to have something like this here," Fraser said.

Tampa residents Perry and Ashley Landmeyer took the day off to attend the game and drink a few beers at Motorworks. It was a natural for the couple: The rabid Pirates and beer fans were married a few years ago in a brewery in Pittsburgh.

"We'll come after spring training, too," Landmeyer said.

A few blocks down the street, at Ball Park Deli & Sub Shop, the mood was less relaxed. The line of hungry baseball fans never seemed to end at the deli counter.

"We are super slammed now," said Ball Park owner Rick Sisto.

Out on the streets, business was a little slower. Ray Perry, a ticket scalper who makes his living buying and selling seats at the ballgame, said business was "kinda slow." However, he said, business will pick up in a few weeks when students are out of school for spring break.

Where the extra carloads of fans will park is less of a question than in the past. The field recently opened more than 300 slots in its left field lot. With the Pirates' purchase of the former Popi's Place at the corner of Ninth St. and 17th Ave. W., about 38 season ticket holders have reserved parking right next to the park's entrance.

While the parking slots were welcome, some fans were surprised and disappointed to find that Popi's Place was closed.

"A few people came by thinking they'd get something to eat," said Pirates Booster Nick Orlic, who was regulating traffic in the former restaurant parking lot. "They soon found it was locked up."

The little hitch hardly dampened the mood for Pirates fans. Barbara Daniels and Linda Erb took a few minutes to pose for photos in front of a banner at the 17th Avenue West park entrance while their husbands played paparazzi. The couples were both attending their first opening-day game at McKechnie.

Both the Erbs and the Daniels are vacationing in the Bradenton area. But the Daniels are about to become semi-permanent residents. After five years of visiting Bradenton for spring training, the Daniels are about to close on a home in the Chateaux Village mobile home community.

"We just came down and had so much fun," said Daniels.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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