BRADENTON — Thunder and lightning normally deter fans from the ballpark, but Mother Nature failed to stop 714 fans from making the trip to McKechnie Field on Wednesday to celebrate Facebook Friends Night.
The game between the Bradenton Marauders and Brevard County Manatees was delayed 50 minutes because of inclement weather.
Yet fans still arrived at McKechnie to see the high Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates on a night when any Facebook friend of the team was given free admission.
The social networking site is popular worldwide, and the Marauders have used it to generate more than 2,700 fans as of Wednesday night.
“Now that the season is winding down a little bit, we’re like, ‘Let’s do something special for the 2,500th,’” Marauders general manager Dan Wolfert said. “We didn’t advertise that, so it was kind of like, ‘Let’s do something cool for the 2,500th fan, and it’s just a way of thanking Facebook people.”
That meant the club’s 2,500th fan, Anita Dotterweich, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
She was joined Wednesday by other Facebook fans such as Michael and Wendy Saturen.
They came to the park with 9-year-old daughter Payton.
The Sarasotans have adopted the Marauders as their own since the club debuted in April. Sarasota no longer has a team since the Reds’ Single-A team left Ed Smith Stadium.
“The Facebook page, I signed up for as soon as they had it,” Michael Saturen said. “I was one of the first 50 fans.”
Bradenton’s Tracy Formosa doesn’t use Facebook. But his wife, Kim, does.
The Formosa family — which includes daughters Rachael, 8; Samantha, 6; Natalie, 3; and Amanda, 1 — are season-ticket holders.
“We used to go to Ed Smith in Sarasota,” Tracy Formosa said. “And once they opened up this, it was more convenient for us.”
The Wednesday night promotion was a no-brainer for the Formosas.
“Everybody who was a Marauders fan ... were going to get a free ticket,” Tracy said. “Just come on down and there’s going to be a special line, and there it is.”
Tracy Formosa likes the more personal nature of minor league baseball.
“They know them by name, and the players come over and say hi to them and stuff,” he said. “Whereas when you go to a big game, you can’t even get near the players unless you have really good seats.”
The free ticket to the game was the main factor in the Saturens waiting out the weather before the game.
“Something to do locally ... we figured (the rain) would stop,” Wendy Saturen said.
That rang true in downtown Bradenton, where the tarp was lifted from McKechnie Field, and the first-place Marauders took to the field.
Unfortunately, the night ended with a loss. The Manatees beat the Marauders 5-4.