LECOM Park logo unveiled
For more than half a century, the Pirates have used their spring training home in Bradenton in part to honor a Hall of Famer with ties to both Pittsburgh and Manatee County. The McKechnie name is plastered all over the stadium, which from 1962 until Friday had been known as McKechnie Field.
But when the Pirates take the field for their first home game of the Grapefruit League season Feb. 25, it will not be at McKechnie Field. Team president Frank Coonelly announced Friday that the stadium has been renamed LECOM Park, effective immediately.
“McKechnie Field had a great ring for it for 54 years,” Coonelly said, “and we were perfectly happy continuing to do that — if we didn’t have the right partner that compelled us to come together to help the community.”
The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, or LECOM, filled Coonelly’s criteria.
Like McKechnie, LECOM is from western Pennsylvania and has found a second home in Bradenton with its campus in Lakewood Ranch. After his Hall of Fame playing and managing career in Pittsburgh, Bill McKechnie retired to Bradenton in 1962. The same year, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and the city of Bradenton changed the name from Braves Field to McKechnie Field.
Since 1969, the Pirates have called McKechnie home during spring training, giving them the second longest relationship between one team and stadium. Since 2010, the stadium has also served as the home for the Bradenton Marauders, Pittsburgh’s Class A Advanced affiliate, which won the Florida State League for the first time in 2016.
LECOM opened its second branch in Bradenton in 2004 and has found symbiotic success with its Florida home. The county has paid $174,000 of economic development incentives to LECOM, and the college was estimated in 2013 to have had an economic impact on the area upward of $90 million.
“We obviously had mixed feelings because we’ve been McKechnie for so long, but LECOM is such a partner of ours,” Mayor Wayne Poston said. “LECOM of Bradenton is their official name, so if their naming rights go to anybody, LECOM is the choice I’d make because we’re very, very happy that they’re here and connected in Bradenton, because we’re connected to them as well. So we think this is going to work well.”
LECOM Park naming history City Park (1923-1926) Ninth Street Park (1927-1947) Braves Field (1948-1961) McKechnie Field (1962-2016) LECOM Park (2017-present)
Coonelly flew down to Bradenton on Thursday to make Friday’s announcement in front of the new LECOM Park signage along the right-field boardwalk. In front of a crowd of LECOM students, and with college president John Ferretti and senior vice president Silvia Ferretti alongside him, Coonelly shared his rationale for changing the stadium’s historic name.
The process of finding a naming-rights partner, Coonelly said, wasn’t particularly active. The organization wasn’t searching for some major corporation without ties to Pittsburgh or Bradenton. LECOM was one of the only logical solutions.
It was the same pitch he made to Poston when he first presented him with the idea. Now, for the next 15 years, the stadium will bear LECOM’s name.
“LECOM has been a terrific community asset for Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch,” Coonelly said. “So when I raised this topic with the mayor, I wanted to make sure that the city was comfortable, and again I told the mayor that in order for us to change the name on this historic ballpark, it had to be the right partner. It couldn’t be just anybody.”
As of Friday, there were still remnants of the McKechnie name at LECOM Park. The name plastered above the main entrance still reads “McKechnie Field,” even as a street sign in front of the stadium and the netting behind home plate both bear the name of the new sponsor. When installation for the stadium’s new video board begins Saturday, it will say LECOM Park instead of McKechnie Field.
During the coming weeks leading up to the start of spring training, almost all instances of McKechnie’s name will be swapped out for LECOM with one exception: the home clubhouse, which is being renamed in McKechnie’s honor as the Bill McKechnie Home Clubhouse at LECOM Park. In time for the start of spring training, the Pirates plan to have a plaque commissioned by Matthews International, the same Pittsburgh company that designs the Hall of Fame plaques, to be placed on the public side of the clubhouse building, which was newly renovated before the 2015 season.
Coonelly and Poston both said they have tried to make contact with some of McKechnie’s descendents ahead of Friday’s official announcement, although they have not yet had such luck. They’ll continue to attempt to make contact ahead of the unveiling of the McKechnie plaque and LECOM Park.
“We want,” Coonelly said, “to make sure that Bill McKechnie’s legacy is understood, recognized and continued to be honored.”