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Baseball | Record attendance figure expected this spring at McKechnie Field

BRADENTON -- The Pittsburgh Pirates set a record for per-game attendance during spring training last season.

Based on early ticket sales, the franchise is expecting an even bigger turnout this spring for its 47th year of Grapefruit League play at McKechnie Field.

"As long as we have good weather, we anticipate eclipsing (last year's) numbers," Pittsburgh's senior director of Florida operations Trevor Gooby said Friday. "We should have a really strong spring training."

The Pirates averaged a record 7,587 fans last season. There were three rainouts, which prevented the team from breaking the overall attendance record of 93,433.

This year, seats already are sold out for Pittsburgh's lone night game, March 18 against the Detroit Tigers. Only standing-room-only tickets remain. Gooby said both games against the Boston Red Sox (March 12 and 21) are getting close to selling out.

Gooby said the Pirates sell about 2,000 standing-room tickets, and those are the boardwalk area behind the right-field fence.

That boardwalk was part of a $10 million renovation project for McKechnie Field prior to the 2013 Grapefruit League season.

A key factor in the growth of Pirates attendance has been the product on the field. With star center fielder Andrew McCutchen leading the way, the Pirates have earned back-to-back National League playoff berths for the first time since the early 1990s.

No longer a laughingstock, Pittsburgh's baseball franchise has generated buzz.

"We definitely see a lot more Pirate fans in the stands," Gooby said. "Five, 10 years ago, we were kind of dependent on the visiting team we were playing. So if it was a Red Sox game or a Yankees game, half the crowd or more would be Red Sox or Yankees fans. Now, Pittsburgh fans are coming down for spring training. So you see a lot more black and gold in the stands, which is tremendous for us."

The latest change to McKechnie Field is a new clubhouse scheduled to open in the next couple of weeks, Gooby said. But that and a new performance center is for the players and staff. There will be nothing new from a fan experience.

"We know it's just a start," Gooby said. "Everybody is excited for kicking off the season. This is where everything starts, so everyone is really geared up."

Individual tickets for the 15 home games range from $16 to $27 when purchased in advance. That number increases to $19 to $30 when bought on game day.

"We've been encouraging people to get their tickets before the day of game, because unfortunately we may have to turn people away on those games if we sell out of all the fixed seats and standing room only," Gooby said.

To purchase tickets, visit the McKechnie Field box office, call 877-893-2827 or go to pirates.com.

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