Everyone remembers the classic ballparks and ranks them completely separately from everything else. The hallowed names of Wrigley or Fenway produce nostalgic love of baseball's historic golden eras. Would it be fair to add the name McKechnie to that list? While the park may not feel like it's nearly a century old, it was in fact opened in 1923 as the first ballpark in the southern half of Florida. City Park opened its doors in 1923 and became the spring home to many MLB teams, including the Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox and Phillies. It was even a training base for the US military during World War II. The Pirates moved in for Spring Training in 1969, and today share it with their low-A minor league affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders. This park definitely contains a long line of history.
That being said, today's McKechnie Field is not anything like City Park of 1923. Renovations first occurred in 1993, and a massive series of renovations have gone in over the last decade. Today's park definitely doesn't feel like a century-old ballpark. That's not to say it's a bad thing, as McKechnie is a beautiful ballpark today, and easily one of the top ballparks in the Grapefruit League.
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There is certainly a great variety of food around the park, and some local flair, in terms of drinks. It's hard to complain about the volume of concessions and carts, but there is something missing in terms of Pittsburgh charm.
The largest concession area is along the first base line behind the bleachers, where there is a huge line of general concession stands. Most of these serve similar food, but at the end, you can find the Yuengling Pizza Bar with stools and the game on TV. At the general concession stands, you can get all the standard ballpark food, such as hot dogs ($4.50-$6), chicken tenders ($9), pulled pork sandwiches ($8.50), cheeseburgers ($7.50) and pizza ($5). Some of the more interesting items include a fried fish sandwich ($8) and a helmet loaded with nachos ($12). Elsewhere in the park, you can find some other concession stands serving specialty items, such as the Bullpen Bistro serving salads and cold cut sandwiches ($6-$10). The only disappointing thing about the menu options is the complete lack of Pittsburgh food on the menu. The food is good, but there's no real surprises (or pierogies).
Pepsi products are served around the park in sizes from kids ($4) to regular ($5) to souvenir cup ($6). You can also purchase regular bottled water ($4), a liter of bottled water ($6), Gatorade ($5) or coffee ($2). Beer options can be found around the park, with domestic running at $8 to $10 and some craft beers at varying prices. Here, there is some Pennsylvania flair with Yuengling sold around the park, and for the the Pittsburgh native, Iron City and Iron City Lite both on tap.
Because nothing on the menu particularly stands out, it's hard to recommend anything specific. So grab whatever ballpark comfort food suits you and wash it down with an IC Lite while you wave the Jolly Roger.
A beautiful mix of old and new, McKechnie provides a bit of atmosphere for anyone in attendance. Whether it be taking in a game from the cheap seats, hanging out at the bar or walking the boardwalk with a local beer, it's all here.
The stadium seems like just part of a larger fenced-in complex, because the concourses and sections of the park are so large and varied in style. From first base to third base, there is covered seatback seating for those looking to take in the game in a more traditional manner. Seatbacks extend down the first base line to the outfield, while bleacher seating extends out into left field. Beyond the left field fence is a raised wooden boardwalk that meanders past bar-style seating and another set of covered bleachers. Right field is where the party is, with a large bar and a variety of bar-style seating both facing the field and at the bar itself.
Behind the first base line is probably the coolest area of the park, although regrettably without any field views. Aside from the long line of concession stands and Yeungling Pizza Bar, there's another bar with umbrella covered patio tables laid out around it, for those looking to get out of the heat. There are also reclined lawn chairs under palm trees for the majority of the length of the bleachers. While you can't see the game from here, it's a great place to relax.
One of the most noticeably absent features at McKechnie is the lack of any form of video scoreboard. The old fashioned scoreboard makes up the left field wall, where numbers go up indicating all of the stats. While this provides its own sort of historic charm, don't expect to see any instant replays here.
The Pirate Parrot roams the concourses saying hello and posing for pictures with loyal Pirate fans. But the focus here is on spring baseball in a good old-fashioned ballpark.
When buying a ticket for the park, it truly just depends on your preference for seating. If shaded seatbacks work for you, then anything between first and third base will meet your needs. If you're more one for roaming the ballpark, general admission should work just fine. There are great views from anywhere beyond the outfield wall on the boardwalk and bar areas.
McKechnie Field is located right in the heart of Bradenton, Florida. While not the nicest and busiest town in the Grapefruit League, it does supply plenty of easy options within walking distance of the park.
In the immediate neighborhood, there are some good food options, such as Ortygia, which offers Italian options in a quaint local setting. Right up the street is Motorworks Brewing, which offers craft beer in a beer garden setting. If you're looking to drive a short distance, the Yachtsea Grille offers seafood and wine options right on the water.
Bradenton may not be the most well-known vacation spot, but it does have its fair share of attractions worth visiting. At Robinson Nature Preserve, you can take some beautiful walks or bike rides in the setting of the central Florida coast. There are also kayaking and paddle boarding options to partake in here. The South Florida Museum, Bishop Planetarium & Parker Manatee Aquarium provide a unique museum experience of planetarium shows alongside the aquarium, where you can visit their famous manatees.
Most of the hotels worth staying in aren't within walking distance of the park, although it's only a short drive. I'd recommend the Hampton Inn & Suites Bradenton Downtown for best access to the stadium and local attractions.
Oftentimes at Spring Training, you'll find a huge mix of fans and very little "home team" pull. That's not the case in Bradenton. The fans are largely a mix of locals who have adopted the Pirates and Pittsburgh natives who either have relocated to Florida or are just down for the trip. This is a very positive function of the Pirates being affiliated with Bradenton for over 40 years.
While the Pirates' average draw is somewhere in the middle of the Grapefruit League at just over 7,000 fans a game, compared to their stadium capacity, this is a pretty solid number. Pirates fans and Bradenton share a connection, and they show up and show it well.
The fans are also truly there for the Pirates. Pittsburgh transplants banter over the prospects and talk about the hopes of the team for the upcoming year. Local Floridians dawn Pirates jerseys and embrace the team that has called Bradenton their second home for half a century. It's truly a great atmosphere, as there's a lot of pride in the Pirates and the ballpark.
McKechnie Field wasn't built with modern access in mind, so there are some unique challenges in getting to a game.
There's not any mentionable transit options in Bradenton, and the hotels aren't close enough to walk. The nearest realistic airport if you're flying in is in Tampa, although hopefully you're planning on hitting Grapefruit League parks all along the coast and expecting some driving.
Parking is easily the most obvious issue here, as there really isn't a true parking lot for the park beyond a tiny lot just outside the gates. The neighborhood will come alive with parking options in people's yards and business lots for anywhere from $5-$25, so choose wisely. I'd definitely recommend parking at local businesses with established lots instead of taking some of the side road yard options, if for no other reason that just the feeling of security.
Once you get to the park, things get considerably easier. Ticket lines are not particularly bad, though I'd still recommend buying in advance, because these games can sell out. The entry process is quick and painless, and you'll find yourself on the concourse in moments.
The concourse varies greatly in terms of flow, depending on where you are. From the main gate, if you head to the right, it opens up into the massive concession area before heading up the stairs to the right field bar. These areas are all wide and easily navigable. Down the left field line and onto the boardwalk behind the left field wall, things are a bit tighter, but nothing to be alarmed about. Restrooms are accessible behind first and third base as well as center field, and are enough to accommodate the masses.
Let's start by saying this is a top-tier historic park in the Grapefruit League for Spring Training baseball, it's easily worth the trip.
Tickets shouldn't cost you more than $25, which is comparable, if not lower-end, to other parks in the Grapefruit League of similar quality. Parking can get pricey if you opt for the closest to the stadium, but the option is to park down the road for cheaper and do a little walking. Food and drinks aren't cheap, but they are in line with most Grapefruit League stadiums.
Easily the most obvious extra is the history of the ballpark. And while it's no longer as obvious as it once was, it's blended in little places like the old-fashioned scoreboard and the bleachers design. The stadium blends new with old very seamlessly, while maintaining an excellent experience. The concourse/open area behind the first base bleachers is an unusually large outdoor dining and bar area that offers a lot of creature comforts that not many parks have. The Kona Bar in left field raised above the wall adds that party atmosphere that so many Spring Training travelers are after. And the boardwalk that travels around the outfield making the park incredibly walkable in a fairly unique way is definitely an additional intriguing piece of the park.
Overall, McKechnie Field is full of history and tradition in a Spring Training environment where teams seem to relocate regularly. The ties the Pirates have to the area and the history of the stadium itself make the experience and the venue align to create one of the best Grapefruit League stops that you can find. It's definitely worth a stop on anyone's Spring Training tour.
Of all the stadiums in which professional baseball teams currently play — Major League, the Minor Leagues, and even the Independent Leagues — only four are older than McKechnie Field: Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Bosse Field, and Jackie Robinson Ballpark. It's small wonder, then, why McKechnie, located near the heart of downtown Bradenton in a residential neighborhood, is considered "The Fenway of Florida" by numerous media outlets, including USA Today. With its Spanish Mission-style façade and compact location, it certainly does exude a certain history that is unparalleled in the vast majority of small parks, and rightfully so.
Opened in 1923, when Manatee County wanted a piece of the action St. Petersburg had been experiencing every spring for almost a decade, the founder of the Florida-based department store, Bealls, who was a friend of the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, convinced them to come to this new ballpark and play during the spring. Since then, the Phillies, Red Sox, Braves (when in Boston and Milwaukee), and Athletics have all called 9th Street Park (as it was known before the Athletics moved in) home. The latest, and longest-serving by far, resident in March is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have called Bradenton and McKechnie home since 1969.
In April of 1923 — ninety years ago — Warren Harding was still president; the dance known as the Charleston hasn't taken the country by storm yet (that started in October of '23); Al Capone had just recently moved from New York to Chicago, where he would run the bootlegging empire that would make him, and Prohibition, both infamous and deadly; and the Manatee County Fairgrounds would be redeveloped into an unsuspecting, yet important ballpark known as City Park. Before this park, built at the urging of retail magnate Robert Beall and St. Louis Cardinals owner Sam Breadon, no baseball team, MLB or otherwise, played any games south of St. Petersburg. After this park, that all changed.
Now known as McKechnie Field, this park is currently the fifth-oldest active ballpark in the United States, behind (in order): Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana. (Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, is the overall oldest ballpark in the U.S., but is no longer used in daily competition.) Major League teams utilize only three of those above, with Fenway, Wrigley, and McKechnie on that list. Throughout its history, McKechnie has played spring host for the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Boston (and eventually Milwaukee) Braves, and Kansas City (and eventually Oakland) Athletics, before finally having their current spring tenant, the Pittsburgh Pirates, open up shop in Bradenton in 1969.
The park, once considered by Royals' and Cardinals' Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog as "the closest thing to a cow pasture I've seen," received its first renovation in 1993, when the field was completely re-sodded and leveled, the wooden benches and antiquated seating were replaced, and the now-signature press box and roofs were installed. A small renovation was done in 2008, highlighted by the addition of stadium lights, making McKechnie the last professional field in the United States to add nighttime illumination; its first night game took place in the spring of 2008. The addition of the lights made it possible for the stadium to gain a regular summertime tenant in 2010, in the form of the Bradenton Marauders, a High-A Florida State League team purchased by the Pirates from the Cincinnati Reds, when the Reds moved their spring training from Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota to Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona, making the former Sarasota Reds no longer necessary to the Reds' organization.
The latest renovations, though, came in the 2012–13 offseason, when everything was virtually gutted yet again. All the seats, which were plastic-formed, static seats, were replaced with traditional stadium seating. The temporary tarp coverings over the First and Third Base stands were replaced with the familiar, yet modernized, hard roofing seen in the 1993 rebuild. The First Base Plaza was expanded, with the players' batting cages moved behind right field. However, the most prominent aspect of the renovations is the addition of an outfield boardwalk. In the ninety years of the ballpark's life, never before has any spectator been able to watch a game from beyond 300 feet down the first and third baselines, let alone in the outfield itself. With this now a 360˚ ballpark, the park, once renowned for its quaint, neighborhood charm, is poised to go headfirst into the 21st Century. How well is dependent upon some key factors.
This is an old and small park but serves as a great spring training home
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