Bradenton Marauders

Marauders win debut, thrill McKechnie crowd

It wasn’t West Virginia, but it felt like heaven, especially if you grew up with glove, bat and ball in hand.

More than 2,300 fans showed up to root for a professional baseball team they can finally call their own and begin a relationship that turns childhood friendships into lifelong loyalties.

The Bradenton Marauders made their debut Thursday night, and everyone who uses a Manatee County zip code now has a team that belongs to them.

Whether they will continue to pour through the McKechnie Field turnstiles in the dog days of July and August didn’t matter. This is the day the Marauders hopped out of their crib and tossed away the training wheels, and Bradenton will never be the same.

Mark this date down: April 8, 2010.

The Marauders trounced the Fort Myers Miracle 18-3, but there was much more to this night than who scored the most.

There were a few errors and a baserunning miscue or two, but that didn’t bother the fans. If they want to see baseball played to near perfection, they can pull a few dollars out of their wallet, burn up some gas and head over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

There is a certain beauty to witnessing youthful mistakes, and these fans seemed sophisticated enough to appreciate the difference. But there is more than meets the eye to the final box score.

These are tough times, and the dollar can be stretched at Marauders games, which in the long run could prove more important than victories.

Most food and drink items cost less than $5 per item, and fans won’t get stunned by outrageous prices that decorate some movie theaters, where buying popcorn can feel like placing a down payment on a house.

The crisp sound of bat on ball was music to the ears for the locals, but nothing sounded better than that generated by Quincy Latimore, who in one swing made himself a folk hero.

The outfielder became a trivia question for life when he smacked a home run over the left-field wall to give the Marauders their first homer, first run and first hit all wrapped into one neat package. This was Beethoven at his best.

It was Thirsty Thursday, which allowed the Marauders to show they know how to throw a party, not forgetting those who like to imbibe the kind of liquid that can put one in a festive mood.

Officials plan to make Thirsty Thursdays a weekly happening. On these nights, fans can purchase a 12-ounce cup of beer for $1.00 until the seventh inning. A person can order only two at a time, but those quick afoot and equally adept at consuming their hops could turn this into a bonanza.

In their commitment to stretch the dollar beyond recognition, the Marauders have only general admission tickets, which cost $6, $5 for military, seniors and students and $4 for anyone younger than 12.

They’re sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, which means folks with vocal chords that have been fine tuned by years of sitting in major league bleacher seats can now afford to park themselves behind home plate. They add a sense of electricity to McKechnie Field that might make it the loudest venue in the Florida State League.

It’s hard to remember an FSL crowd as loud in numerous years of covering the league. Now this was a night to remember!

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