Pirates enjoying Manatee in March


The Pittsburgh Pirates do more than play baseball during the time they spend in Manatee County for spring training.

Before the team heads north to begin the grind of a Major League Baseball schedule, players soak up the Florida sun away from the park.

When time -- and management -- permits.

For instance, starting Paul Maholm said if he wasn’t a major leaguer, he’d be a golfer.

So it makes perfect sense that he samples the greens at area courses.

“I went to college to be in professional golf management program,” Maholm said. “I’ve played Lakewood Ranch, Concession usually, Legacy. ... I usually try to do Concession at least once a spring.”

Second baseman Neil Walker said he likes the golf down here, too.

“It takes your mind off of long days, and baseball and things like that,” he said. “It’s a nice getaway at least for me, in general.”

But golf courses aren’t the only place you’ll find Pittsburgh players during their stay in Manatee County.

Walker said guys also like going to movies, grabbing a bite to eat, fishing or heading to resorts out of the area.

The immediate focus is baseball, and preparing for the upcoming season.

Away from the park, though, lies several popular player destinations.

Walker said he lives on the Manatee River, a good spot for fishing.

“One of my favorite spots is Mattison’s and a place in St. Armands Circle,” Walker said. “But besides that we like to go golf at River Strand and River Wilderness and Lakewood Ranch and places like that.”

Lyle Overbay, the 34-year-old elder statesmen, has three kids -- ages 7, 6 and 2.

So he tends to do family-oriented activities like Discovery Cove in Orlando.

However, that hasn’t stopped Overbay’s wife from getting a bit dangerous -- swimming in Lake Manatee alongside eating-machine reptiles.

“A little disturbed she had to swim with alligators,” said Overbay, a Washington state native. “Where we come from, we don’t have that. ... It’s not every day you get to hang with alligators.”

Former Pirates closer Matt Capps, now with the Minnesota Twins, pitched Wednesday against his old club.

Capps, who still owns a home in Bradenton, takes part in the non-contact sports like golf and fishing, while his wife heads elsewhere.

“My wife’s really big into going down to Sarasota and Tampa and shopping,” Capps said. “We went to Mattison’s over there on the river for her birthday on (Feb. 26). There’s lots of neat little places to go around here in Bradenton and in north Sarasota. It’s a nice place to live, it really is.”

The warm weather also affords opportunities for Capps and other ballplayers to visit the white-sand beaches that are a staple of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“There’s nothing better for me in the offseason wearing shorts and a T-shirt and flip-flops every day,” Capps said. “Not having to put a jacket on -- you can’t beat it.”

Capps is a self-described Southerner, having grown up just outside Atlanta.

He said his high school was small with fewer than 1,000 students when he graduated.

But he ended up down in Bradenton during his tenure with the Pirates.

Capps and his wife have two golden retrievers. The hunting dogs usually require room to run, and Capps takes them to the perfect spot in the area.

“We take ’em out to the intercoastal there,” Capps said. “Let them swim in the water a little bit. We’ve taken them to the DeSoto Beach and let them swim around, and things like that.”

And when he’s chomping for a bite to eat, aside from Mattison’s, Capps said he goes to Mangrove just over the bridge in Palmetto a lot.

“But Lee Roy Selmon’s is probably our favorite,” Capps said. “And Urban Flats right there on University ... if you want pizza, Urban Flats is pretty good. It’s a different kind of pizza, but I think it’s good.”