BRADENTON — If the game ball, stamped “Bradenton Marauders Inaugural Season 2010,” could talk, it might’ve shouted:
“WHAT A RIDE!”
Or, as Pittsburgh Pirates principal owner Bob Nutting said when the ball finally arrived at McKechnie Field aboard the DeSoto Crewe galleon San Cristobal III, “What a fantastic way to deliver the game ball.”
He should’ve been along for the trip.
It was fun, all right.
Celebrating Thursday’s season opener of Bradenton’s new Florida State League ballclub, team officials arranged for a “Marauders First Pitch Voyage” across Bradenton with folks like Olympic swimmer Tripp Schwenk, Judge Ed Nicholas and Southeast High alum Rod Harper, now with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
The swashbuckling Marauders mascot was aboard, too.
Starting out at Pirate City on 27th Street East, the Crewe sailed south to pick up folks at Mixon Farms, navigated along Cortez Road to pick up more at Cody’s Roadhouse, then steered toward downtown, bound for Cork’s and City Hall before anchoring at McKechnie.
On time, too.
“I’m so fired up,” said Mayor Wayne Poston, who threw out the first pitch. “Having the Marauders part of this is something we really wanted for families in Bradenton to enjoy.”
All along the route, whether it was First Street or 14th, motorists beeped their horns as the Crewe waved Marauders signs and flung beads into open windows, and John Fogerty’s timeless hit, “Centerfield,” blared over the galleon’s speakers.
They were on the way to a ballgame and a DeSoto parade had broken out.
“We need the practice,” the Crewe’s Brian McAllister joked.
Yet the significance of the event wasn’t lost on the galleon’s passengers.
“Having baseball year round is great, not just spring training,” Schwenk said.
“To see teams play here year round, it can definitely give kids hope. Let them know that dream is right there,” Harper said.
“It’s a neat time for Bradenton and Manatee County,” Nicholas said, “My son, Steven, can’t wait to come back from college and join in on the Marauders. It’s a great way to spend the summer.”
Thursday was a great start.