BRADENTON — There was a countdown on the Bradenton Marauders’ Web site ticking down the days, minutes and seconds to the minor league baseball team’s first game.
According to Tuesday’s clock, two days stood between the Marauders and tonight’s season opener against the Fort Myers Miracle.
“It was at 49 (days) a week ago — I swear,” said general manager Dan Wolfert. “It went that fast.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ high Single-A affiliate debuts at 7 p.m. tonight at McKechnie Field. Mayor Wayne Poston will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Marauders’ righty Bryan Morris toes the rubber for the first of the team’s 140 games.
“(Tonight’s) going to be real exciting,” said Morris, a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006.
All of this was set in motion last fall, when the Pirates put in a bid to purchase the Sarasota Reds, a high Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Florida State League approved the sale in early November, and the team name was unveiled the following month.
Marketing has been the name of the game since, with the Marauders putting merchandise in the team store at McKechnie Field and unveiling the logo and uniform during a March pep rally on Old Main Street.
Tonight, however, it’s all about baseball — which sits fine with the players, who formally introduced themselves during Monday’s civic luncheon at Pirate City.
“McKechnie’s a beautiful field. I had the opportunity to go over there and play some during major league spring training,” said outfielder Quincy Latimore, a North Carolina native whose parents will be in attendance tonight. “It’s going to be fun. The season’s here.
“Bradenton, in general, you see a lot of Pirates stuff around everywhere. ... I think we’ll have a good crowd and a lot of fan support. I really do.”
Latimore knows a thing or two about playing baseball in Bradenton — he made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League Pirates at Pirate City in June 2007, a month after Pittsburgh made him a fourth-round draft pick.
He spent all of last season with the West Virginia Power, a Single-A team in the South Atlantic League, batting .251 with 10 triples, 11 home runs and 70 RBIs in 118 games.
“It’s a step up,” he said of the Florid State League. “I’ve got to continue to improve and get better.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Wolfert said the Marauders had sold approximately 1,500 tickets for tonight.
“That’s great,” he said, “because the Florida State League generally draws a walk-up crowd.”
And now, after months of preparation, it’s time for minor-league baseball in Bradenton.
“McKechnie is a phenomenal field,” Morris said. “I’m really excited to get to play there under the lights, which is going to be nice.”