BRADENTON -- Nearly 6,000 fans streamed into McKechnie Field last Saturday night to take in the Florida State League's All-Star Game, the first one ever played in Bradenton.
At least one walked away very impressed.
"I thought they did an outstanding job," said Chuck Murphy, the league's president since 1990. "I thought it was one of our better All-Star Games all around."
The action on the field proved memorable -- the North team scored four times in the top of the ninth to beat the South 6-4. And Fort Myers' Adam Brett Walker, considered one of the Minnesota Twins' top prospects, won the home run derby before coming within a triple of hitting for the cycle to nab the game's Top Star Award given to the most valuable player.
But Murphy was just as pleased with the myriad of activities that surrounded the game, including a 5K run on Friday night through the Riverwalk and a ceremony Saturday night to recognize eight members of the community honored as All-Stars Among Us.
"One of the big things was that they had the community involved," Murphy said. "And it seemed like they had good support from the community. And we had a nice crowd."
The official attendance Saturday was 5,882. Only Florida State League All-Star games in Brevard County (6,904 in 1996) and Lakeland (5,946 in 2006) drew more.
"The crowd exceeded our expectations," said Trevor Gooby, president of
Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Marauders' parent club.
A 4:30 p.m. autograph session created a line that snaked all throughout the McKechnie Field Plaza. And while Marauders players uch as Josh Bell, named the league's player of the week Monday, drew the loudest cheers from the hometown fans, nearly all of the league's 12 teams were represented in the stands.
There were plenty of Dunedin Blue Jays jerseys visible in the crowd -- understandable considering the Jays' won the North Division during the first half -- while Brevard County's fanbase was the loudest. Every time a Brevard County player came into the game, one half of the group chanted "Sea" and the other half responded with "Cow", a tribute to the Manatee, which is Brevard County's mascot.
Perhaps no player enjoyed McKechnie Field's confines more than Walker. His Fort Myers Miracle hadn't played there before the All-Star Game, which made Saturday Walker's Bradenton debut.
"I didn't know what to expect coming here," Walker said. "I think it's a really nice park Especially now, you've got a decent crowd. It's a nice place, nice field. I'm enjoying it so far."
The Miracle begin a three-game series July 1 at McKechnie Field. Not surprisingly, Walker said he is itching to come back -- unless, of course, the league's leader in home runs gets a promotion to Double-A New Britain first.
"If I could do that a couple times in a game," Walker said, referring to the performance that won him the home run derby, "that'd be nice."
The start of the game was delayed over an hour by rain. But once first pitch was thrown at little after 8 p.m., the two teams played in dry, pleasant conditions. And most of the fans stuck around until the final out.
"We were monitoring the weather and there was some preliminary discussions about a postponement," Gooby said. "The storm was right on the edge of McKechnie. We rolled the dice and decided that we had to try to get the game in. I was thrilled to see so many people wait out the storm and get to see a terrific game."
Hosts for the Florida State League All-Star game are picked on a volunteer basis, and Murphy said sites have already been chosen for the next three years.
But Gooby wouldn't mind seeing Bradenton get back into the rotation.
"We would definitely love to host the game in the future. We received tremendous support from our entire community," he said. "It was a lot of work for our organization but we were so proud of the end result. We would love to try to top it in a future season."