It appears as if minor league baseball is heading to downtown Bradenton.
The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Thursday they are “very close” to purchasing the Cincinnati Reds’ high Single-A affiliate in Sarasota and moving it to McKechnie Field, the Pirates’ spring home since 1969, beginning this summer.
The team is slated to play 70 games at home. The Florida State League will vote on the proposal Nov. 10.
“I’m so excited, I don’t even know what to say,” said Mayor Wayne Poston. “This was a goal of mine since I came here as mayor. We talked about putting lights at McKechnie to have things like this happen.”
The Pirates had been considering the purchase of a minor-league club for the past three seasons, said Pirates President Frank Coonelly. Those plans got a push forward when the Reds decided to move their spring-training operations to Arizona.
“The advantages are baseball driven,” Coonelly said. “Our baseball operational development staff spends a large portion of their time in Bradenton with our instructional league. It also allows us to take full advantage of the facilities that we have — not only at McKechnie, but at Pirate City, which, through the efforts of the city, is one of the best facilities in Major League Baseball.
“We had a real live suitor when the Reds decided they were going out to Arizona. From that point on, we’ve been having discussions with Cincinnati.”
Bradenton has some history with the FSL, which features 12 teams and is a high Single-A league, with nearby clubs in Tampa, Clearwater and Charlotte County.
The Bradentown Growers played in the league in 1919, when the FSL originated and was a Class-D league. The Growers lasted until 1920 before resurfacing in 1923. After closing down in 1924, the team came back yet again in 1926, when it was then known as the Bradenton Growers.
They lasted just one season. But it appears as if the FSL’s return to Bradenton is all but set.
“I don’t expect any problems,” said FSL President Chuck Murphy. “Everything should go smoothly.”
Murphy said the league’s 2010 schedule is complete, but he doesn’t envision the move to Bradenton creating much of a ripple.
“Everything is in good shape over there (at McKechnie),” he said. “Trevor (Gooby, the Pirates director of Florida operations), does a really good job.”
The arrival of a minor-league team in Bradenton should reap some rewards.
“It’s definitely a great thing that’s definitely going to provide a shot in the arm economically,” said Mike Kennedy, the executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority. “It’s fantastic to make use of McKechnie, which I think is one of the greatest ballparks in the country.”
It may even draw fans from Sarasota who miss having the Single-A Reds.
“This will provide a quality of life element to our community, to see some professional baseball being played under the lights,” said Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. “It’s nothing but a win-win for the community.”
Expect to see plenty of night games at McKechnie Field, which became equipped with lights in August 2007 and began offering night baseball — albeit on a limited basis — in 2008.
“We want to make sure the ballpark is not just a ballpark,” Poston said, “but an entertainment facility for the entire community.”
Poston said there is also the possibility of expanding McKechnie Field, which currently seats 6,602.
“There’s certainly opportunities for that, and we’re still discussing that,” he said. “But let’s make sure we get the team first.”
The vote is slated for Nov. 10. If the transaction passes, Coonelly said the Pirates will be in Bradenton the next day for a ceremony.
“It’s very exciting for the City of Bradenton,” he said. “And we’re going to take advantage of those lights.”