Fans set attendance record despite rainy spring at McKechnie Field

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 28, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Low temperatures, a steady drizzle and gray clouds did little to deter another big crowd from filling McKechnie Field on Thursday as 8,134 fans took in the Pirates' final exhibition game this spring in Florida.

The Pirates lost 4-2, but the crowd -- the seventh sellout in 12 games in Bradenton -- helped establish an average attendance record of 7,587.

The previous mark of 6,229 was set last year.

"The Pirates are humbled by the support we received this year at McKechnie Field," Frank Coonelly, the team's president, said in a statement, "from Pirates fans living in the Bradenton area and the thousands who have visited from Pittsburgh and beyond for an opportunity to watch their baseball team play in the Friendly City.

"The Pirates thank our fans and friends in Bradenton for giving us such a tremendous start to the 2014 season."

McKechnie Field, which underwent a $10 million renovation before the 2013 Grapefruit League season, is considered one of the top facilities for spring baseball. Voting in a USA Today readers poll, which ended Monday, placed Bradenton's stadium fourth among all spring training destinations, behind only the Rays' Charlotte Sports Park in Florida.

The total attendance of 91,046 wasn't enough to break the record of 93,433 set last season. Weather was the culprit.

The Pirates lost three home games because of rain. Fac

tor in the average attendance, and McKechnie Field would have played host to more than 110,000 fans had Mother Nature cooperated.

Other records did fall, however. The Pirates' home opener this spring against the Yankees drew 6,870, a new McKechnie Field standard for the first game of the season.

The annual night game against the Baltimore Orioles was played before a crowd of 8,186, the most to watch an evening spring training game in Bradenton since lights were installed in 2008.

And on March 22 against the Philadelphia Phillies, a total of 8,566 fans passed the through the gates, the biggest crowd in the history of the 91-year-old ballpark that has served as the Pirates' southern home since 1969.

Fans are noticing the Pirates' baseball renaissance.

"You see it when we got to Washington; you see it when we got to Baltimore. You even see it during spring training games on the road," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's building. We kind of joke here that we're building Buc Nation one Buc at a time, but it's starting to happen. And it's fun to watch. They're wearing the colors, they're wearing the gear and to see the kids branded up, that's fun to watch."

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