Between work obligations and the long trip to Florida from Mechanicsburg, Pa., Dale Koppenhaver can’t be picky about when he makes his now-annual trip to spring training. His long weekend in 2017 happened to set him and his girlfriend up perfectly.
Koppenhaver is a lifelong Pirates fan — he has liked the team since his Little League days in Harrisburg, Pa., when he played for a team called the Pirates. His girlfriend, Christian, is from Maryland and grew up rooting for the Orioles. Friday’s game at LECOM Park was a chance to satisfy both rooting interests as Pittsburgh played host to Baltimore for an early-season Grapefruit League game in Bradenton.
“It just happened to be the weekend we could make it,” Koppenhaver said. “It happened to work out.”
About three-fourths of the crowd at LECOM for the first meeting between the Pirates and O’s at the newly renamed stadium this spring donned Pittsburgh’s black and gold. Some of those fans had someone clad in orange tagging along. It’s easy for fans of the two teams to make spring training trips in tandem thanks to proximity of the teams’ spring training homes, even if juggling when to go to which ballpark becomes a bit more challenging.
Ben Abshari and Taylor Lewis walked along the third-base line and toward the boardwalk before the start of the game, Abshari wearing a black jacket with an orange “O” and Lewis wearing a black shirt with a gold “P” on his cap. The two friends live in Lakewood Ranch and attend a handful of spring training games each year, mostly at LECOM. Most of their friends root for the Yankees and Rays, though, so the meetings between the Orioles and Pirates are something of a must-attend.
Abshari grew up in Potomac, Md., before moving to Manatee County with his family a few years ago. He has always rooted for Baltimore. Lewis is a lifelong Florida resident who primarily roots for the Marlins but also pulls for Pittsburgh because of the team’s presence in Bradenton.
Their two teams aren’t usually rivals since they play in different leagues, but for one month each year there’s a bit of friendly competition on the Gulf Coast.
“When the Pirates play the Orioles we’ll usually go, definitely,” Lewis said, “just because we both have interest in it.”