A NEW SPRING HOME FOR THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES
49 years ago, the city of Bradenton, FL, became the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 1969, there were just 12 teams composing the National League. It was the first year that the NL was split into two divisions. The Pirates competed in the Eastern Division with the Cubs, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals and the Montreal Expos. The Western Division featured the Braves, Reds, Astros, Dodgers, Padres, and Giants.
Larry Shepard (84-73) and Alex Grammas (4-1) managed the Bucs to third place in their final full season at Forbes Field, eventually finishing 12 games behind the Miracle Mets.
The Pirates roster was shaping into what was to become the ’71 World Champs. The line-up was punctuated by such stellar names as Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver, Dock Ellis and Steve Blass.
|Over the next five decades, the association between the Pirates and the City of Bradenton would
grow much stronger, the roots much deeper, and their commitment to each other much longer.
For the Pirates and Bradenton, convening each spring offers new hopes and dreams, as well as a renewed passion for America’s greatest game. In February, every team is a contender.
This season, the 2018 Pirates celebrate their 50th spring in the balmy sunshine of Bradenton, Florida.
The Pirates moved their facilities from Terry Park Ballfield in Fort Meyers (1955-1968) to Bradenton’s McKechnie Field (now LECOM Park) before the start of the 1969 season. The stadium, which was built in 1923, remains the oldest stadium in the Grapefruit Circuit. McKechnie Field was originally the spring home of the St.Louis Cardinals. Other previous tenants include the Phillies, Red Sox, Braves, and A’s.
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In 1962, the ballpark was named after Bradenton resident and Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie, wwho wasthe first manager to win World Series with two different teams: the 1925 Pirates and the 1940 Cincinnati Reds. McKechnie remains the only manager NL to win pennants with three different teams (St.Louis Cardinals, 1928).
The stadium remained McKechnie Field until February 10, 2017, when naming rights were sold to Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and it is now known as LECOM Park. Since 2010, LECOM Park has also been the home of the Pirates’ High-A affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders (formerly the Sarasota Reds),
LECOM Park is 5 miles west of Pirate City, the Pirates’ workout and practice facility.
Both have undergone several renovations and improvements over the years.
The early ’90s saw extensive improvements to the Stadium. Exterior wall upgrades were made to the Spanish-Mission facade, sight lines were enhanced, and new concessions stands were added. Seating was expanded as well, from 4,200 to 6,500.
In 2008, the Pirates signed a 30-year lease with the City of Bradenton. New stadium lighting was installed with a $15M grant from the State of Florida. On March 19th, the first-ever night game was played at McKechnie Field.
A major investment was made in 2013 to add the outfield boardwalk, additional seating capacity to 8,800, more concessions, plus an expanded fan plaza.
Standing room capacity for the games currently stands at 9,000 people.
Also in 2008, $9M was spent on upgrades to facilities at Pirate City.
There are now four practice fields at Pirate City. All of the fields feature Bermuda grass. Each one is named after a Pirate legend: Roberto Clemente Field (#1), Pie Traynor Field (#2), Honus Wagner Field (#3) and Willie Stargell Field (#4). Additionally, there is another half-field for additional practice.
Facilities include 12 pitching mounds, 5 batting cages, game rooms, meeting rooms, a dining hall and much more.
There are on site dorms for the players. The major leaguers use these during spring training and the Marauders stay there during their active season.
Pirate City also hosts various events, from baseball camps to corporate meetings, weddings, and parties. Many of the facilities are available to the attendees. Visitors to extended events have the opportunity to stay in the same rooms that the players use during their spring stay!
VISITING LECOM PARK
There’s nothing like the crack of the bat and the noise of the crowd, especially in spring training when every team is a contender. It’s such a unique experience to interact with the stars and prospects as they prepare for the regular season.
Planning on catching the Bucs in action this spring? Ticket sales and additional stadium and tourism information are available at the following websites:
Bradenton Tourism: http://www.fl-esi.com/desc-brad-cm.htm