BRADENTON -- The Florida State League All-Star Game is coming to McKechnie Field.
Just as Trevor Gooby envisioned.
Perhaps the game, which gets under way at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and includes a home run derby, would have landed in McKechnie Field, home to the high Single-A Bradenton Marauders, had the ballpark not undergone a $10 million renovation that included everything from an outfield-spanning boardwalk to a tiki bar and roughly 2,000 additional seats.
But luring such events to McKechnie, as well as Bradenton and Manatee County, was always in the back of Gooby's mind.
"When we decided to move forward with the renovations," said Gooby, the Pittsburgh Pirates senior director Florida operations, "one of the goals was to bring in as many different events as
possible. ... It's just a way to get as many more people into Bradenton and the Manatee County area as possible. Get them into our area, have them stay in our hotels."
Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 94 percent of people who visit Manatee County for the first time come back again. Events such as this weekend's game are a good way to stir up interest in the community and get people acquainted with the area.
"We believe once we get them here, they'll plan vacations in the future and fall in love with it," Falcione said. "And then maybe they'll eventually buy real estate down here or open a business ... and that's a big part of our economic and real estate growth.
"The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Marauders have been a great community partner, and with our department, how they've helped us promote the area in the Pittsburgh market."
It's the first time the 53-year-old game will be played in either Manatee or Sarasota counties.
The game hasn't been played this far down on the state's west coast since Port Charlotte hosted the 1995 edition.
"Normally, it's a volunteer thing. As long as we have volunteers come along, we don't appoint anybody," said Chuck Murphy, president of the Florida State League. "Trevor volunteered because I think he was aware has was going to have a renovated field, and he wanted to show it off. And that's good."
The one thing Gooby didn't want to do was limit the festivities to just the game. McKechnie Field is a community asset, and he wanted to turn the weekend into a community event.
The All-Star Ambassadors, composed of 19 members of local government and businesses, was put together to come up with different sorts of activities centered around the All-Star Game. They created Friday's Pirates and Princesses 5K Home Run, which began and ended on Old Main Street and featured the Riverwalk as its main course, and the All-Stars Among Us, a group of eight members of the community who will be honored at 6:40 p.m. Saturday at McKechnie Field.
"We bounced a lot of ideas off them, and they came up with great ideas, too," Gooby said of the Ambassadors. "It's been a really great partnership."
The centerpiece is the game itself. Players will be available for autographs at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, which is when the gates open, at McKechnie Field's fan plaza, and a pregame concert featuring Matthew Huff has been scheduled from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Yuengling Bar Plaza.
Post-game activities include a fireworks show, a Launch-A-Ball contest benefiting the FSL Hall of Fame and a concert by Save The Radio on the right-field boardwalk.
"It's a great opportunity to showcase one of the best architectural ballparks in the state of Florida not only to the athletes," Falcione said, "but their friends and family as well."
Then it's back to business. The Marauders are in the process of wrapping the first half of the Florida State League's split 140-game season and starting the next one.
"We'll go back to normal Florida State League activities after the game (Saturday)," Gooby said. "We'll take a deep breath and hopefully finish the first half strong and have a great second half."