A hearty Bradenton welcome to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who arrives in the Friendly City today. And another to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, well under way in spring training and poised for the opening game in Grapefruit League play this Saturday. On Sunday, the Pirates host the Toronto Blue Jays in opening day at McKechnie Field.
The Pittsburgh and Pirates connections to Bradenton have bloomed over the last few years with several dramatic developments.
First, the Pirates established a Florida State League franchise here, the Bradenton Marauders. The High-A affiliate posted winning records and playoff appearances in both of its two seasons at McKechnie Field.
Attendance soared from an average of 823 fans in 2010 to 1,506 last year, a remarkable increase that reflects Manatee County’s embrace of the team.
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Second, last August Bradenton and Pittsburgh forged a “Two Cities” Alliance to boost the sporting, cultural, educational and economic development opportunities between the two municipalities.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston visited the Steel City back then to cement the alliance, and his counterpart is visiting here to meet with community leaders and tour our Florida paradise.
Third, last spring the Pirates Charities established Field for Kids-Bradenton, which provides matching grants to improve youth baseball and softball parks.
The organization contributed to the construction of the Miracle League of Manasota field off University Parkway in Sarasota. Children with special needs can enjoy playing baseball on a field with a rubberized, safe surface. The park will be dedicated during this year’s spring training.
With tourism ranking as Manatee County’s top industry, the Pirates contribute mightily to the local economy as thousands of fans follow the team to their Southern home.
The ball players show their appreciation to one and all by staging a pep rally downtown on Old Main Street, signing baseball cards, balls, bats and even shirts.
Last Saturday’s annual event was just the third, yet another terrific expansion of the team’s relationship with the city.
Manatee County and Bradenton are reciprocating the Pirates’ commitment to the region with a $7.5 million package of improvements to McKechnie Field. Additional seating, a boardwalk around the stadium, a tiki bar, and more concession stands are some of the upgrades, scheduled for completion in time for next year’s spring training. In turn, the Pirates will increase team spending on promoting tourism to Manatee County back in Pennsylvania.
While the major league baseball organization has been calling Bradenton home for more than four decades, with a pledge to return well into the future, even stronger, broader ties to Pittsburgh are in the offing with the “Two Cities” Alliance. Mayor Ravenstahl’s presence here for the next few days is most welcome.