Right in the heart of Bradenton, and within minutes of beaches, lies a minor league stadium gem that has been home to teams since 1923. Only two current major league stadiums are older, Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914). Only one regularly used ballpark is older, Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana (1915).
McKechnie Field is named for Bill McKechnie, the only man to win World Series titles with two different teams (1925 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1940 Cincinnati Reds). His overall managerial record in all baseball leagues is 1896-1723. In retirement, he called Bradenton home until his death on October 29, 1965.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have called it their Spring Training home since 1969 and the current Bradenton Marauders have hosted games there since 2010. It is a ballpark that has a little bit of everything, blending in the new amenities and features of modern venues while still maintaining a respectful nod to the past.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Like most minor league baseball franchises, there is often a wide variety of common foods you will find everywhere. It is somewhat surprising that with such a lengthy tie-in with the Pittsburgh teams that choices indigenous to the Steel City would not appear. Adding a Primanti Brothers sandwich would be a natural selection.
The wider range of choices can be found behind the 1st base grandstand in the modern boardwalk where lounge chairs and palm trees are prevalent. There are plenty of open stands so lines are never very long no matter how large the crowd.
As for beer, a wide variety and specials during happy hour is available. Draft beer is $9.50, $7 and $5.50 depending on the size you choose. Large canned beers are $9, $6 and $4 for 24oz, 16oz and craft, and Pittsburgh beers respectively. They serve Yuengling, a beer known well to residents of western Pennsylvania.
Jumbo hot dogs are $5, pizza slices are $5, nachos with cheese are $4.50, while loaded nachos with cheese are $7.50.
One thing to consider is the pork sandwich with mac 'n' cheese from Sonny's BBQ, a local joint. It is just $10.
The only truly special thing to consider is the Mixon Fruit Farms Orange Swirl Ice Cream for $5. This is popular for those wanting something sweet. Make sure you get one of these while attending a game here.
The Kona Bar is in right center field and the party deck which can be rented down the left field line are worth considering if you are attending with a larger group.
While McKechnie Field has been around awhile, the team has steadily made improvements to bring amenities up to current standards while still maintaining the integrity of the original design, one that now has reached 90 years.
The ballpark's footprint is shoe-horned into the block at the corner of 9th Street West and 17th Avenue West, on the northeast corner of the traffic light. Both are narrow, two-lane roads which add charm to this gem of a diamond. It is a charming environment.
The box office is just to the right of the main entrance and offers an array of choices.
The view from home plate to the pitcher faces northeast, the right field line runs due east while the left field line runs due north. This is important when selecting seats so that you will not necessarily be looking into the sun.
Box seats (most are six rows in depth) and those under cover stretching from first to third base are actual seats ($10 each). There is netting which covers the sections 1 and 3 on the left field side and sections 2 and 4 on the right field side.
Just behind these, are sections which are separated by a walkway that spans the field area. Beginning at about the sixth row of this area, your seat is covered, otherwise you are at risk should there be rain. The canopy spans throughout most of the sections at this level (sections 1-11 on the left field side and sections 2-14 on the right field side. Seats are $10.
There are sections which are bleacher seats only and likely for overflow for massive crowds. These are sections 13-18 in left field and 14-22 in right field. These are also $10 each. I do not recommend these.
Outfield seats in left center are covered, full seats and provide a neat view of the game ($8). The concourse to reach this area allows you walk around the entire park and never miss any of the action.
Under the seating area, particularly on the left field side, is directly under the sections and often shows the stadium's age, particularly during or after a rainstorm.
There are also many movable tables and chairs around the field, including high tables in the outfield and in the Fan Plaza behind the right field seats.
While there are game-by-game discounts, know you can save a few bucks if you buy in advance. Also know that seniors, military and students save $2 on their ticket. Child Tickets are $7 for infield, $5 for outfield.
I recommend a seat in section 12 under cover for afternoon games and a seat in section 11 for evening games.
The home team occupies the dugout at the right field line in front of section 8 and part of 10. Their bullpen is behind the right field wall near the foul line. The visitor dugout is in front of section 7 and part of 9. Their bullpen is behind the left field wall at the foul line.
The main scoreboard is in left center field at the outfield wall. While not a manual scoreboard, it does have that look and is a nice touch. There are secondary scoreboards atop the awning of the upper deck seating areas. There is no video replay.
Field dimensions are 335 down each line, 375 in the power alleys and 400 in straightaway center, symmetrical in every way between the lines.
The team plays on beautiful, well-kept natural grass. There is no dirt strip from the mound to home plate, but the territory between the bases which separate infield from outfield are laden in dirt.
Pitch speed can be monitored at left-center field just above the secondary scoreboard. Behind the outfield wall at this area is where the home bullpen is situated. The main scoreboard, the primary source for in-game statistics and video replays, is behind and above the general admission lawn area of right field close to the foul pole.
The home run wall measures 10 feet high and the out-of-play area tapers close to the foul line as it approaches the wall. There is plenty of space from the backstop to home plate.
The press box is atop the reserved seating area between sections 1 and 2. All games can be heard on 1220 AM.
The area is largely a residential area with a few businesses along 9th Street West and one or two along 17th Avenue West. Any fun before you enter the ballpark will have to come from an area a distance away from the ballpark.
This group is engaged in the game, largely due to the activities which keep the fans aware of all that is going on with participation in the cheers and contests. The team is pretty good, too. There is nothing over and above what an average minor league baseball experience would involve in witnessing anything out of the ordinary.
There is relatively easy access, but through narrow streets and stop lights. A highway is not right next to the ballpark, you have to travel a ways. Parking is cheap, particularly if you get there early enough to get a street spot. Otherwise, the lot adjacent to the ballpark costs $5, but use that money on inside food by arriving early and parking on the street.
The ballpark is quaint and worth a visit. It is interesting to see the blend of old and new and the price of tickets and food is fair, and in many cases, cheaper than what you might expect.
The programs are large size and thick with an insert to provide updated rosters and statistics. At just $3, it is a pretty good value and a staple of any visit.
As far as merchandise, the store shares the same building at the ticket office. There is an array of things to choose from, but it is surprising the team does not have the most basic of souvenirs, the team logo baseball. I was told they didn't get any in for the 2015 season. Hmm, okay.
I like the Fan Plaza which connects the main concession areas to the right field seating sections. I like the tropical feel with lounge chairs, palm trees and high tables and chairs. It is a nice touch to bring the tropical into the ballpark, perfect for gathering space, a staple in today's venues hosting all sports.
Bucking the trend of new and extravagant stadiums, McKechnie Field near downtown Bradenton has stood the test of time and is approaching its 90th birthday, making it the 2nd-oldest stadium in the Florida State League (behind only Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach), and the oldest park used in Major League Baseball spring training.
Having been the spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Boston/Milwaukee Braves, and Kansas City/Oakland Athletics through the years, the current spring tenant, the Pittsburgh Pirates, moved-in in 1969 and have become the stadium's longest tenant. This union between the Pirates and the city-owned park has recently been extended another 30 years, placing it, along with the Detroit Tigers and Joker Marchant Stadium, as the longest one-stadium teams in spring ball, and one of the longest-such relationships anywhere in the country.
Extensive renovations, with the grandstands rebuilt and roofs added, were done in 1993, and more renovations - which added lights - in 2008, have made this park much more on-par with the younger counterparts it is trying to compete against. In fact, with the additions of those lights, it finally held its first night game on March 19, 2008.
Despite all this, only five years out of those eight-plus decades had summer action in the FSL. The Bradenton Growers were playing ball from 1923-1926, with a year skipped in 1925, before they folded and the park would grow silent after every March. That changed in 2009, when the Cincinnati Reds left neighboring Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium for Arizona, and its FSL team was transferred to the Pirates' organization. Thusly McKechnie Field, began play with the Bradenton Marauders in 2010.
I've only been for Pirates spring training but this ballpark has grown on me over the years. I even liked it before 1994 when it was a falling-apart wooden bandbox. It's an old-timey ballpark with great atmosphere. Lots of character. Can't say much for concessions b/c I've only had beer & hotdogs although I noticed a very promising looking bbq stand behind the 3rd base grandstand. My biggest complaint: the bucket seats. I actually liked the old wooden benches with wooden backs better.
Downtown location means smaller than usual footprint in this league. Free parking can be found at the Boys and Girls Club just north of the ballpark. There is only one entry point, so it took a few minutes getting out, keep this in mind if there is a large crowd. Other businesses offer parking at $5 if you are too lazy to walk two minutes from the free lot.
Tickets are $8 for the reserved seats, generally those surrounding home plate. and $6 for GA, which is the rest of the ballpark, including the baseline grandstands. The third base seats are more popular as the sun shines into the first base side for the early part of evening games. In any case, the higher rows on both sides are partially protected from the sun by a plastic tarp.
There are more than enough concessions with hot dogs, burgers, subs, and chicken tenders at reasonable prices. Lemonade seemed to be popular choice here, no doubt helped by the 90 degree weather on the night I attended.
The starting lineups and standings are on the wall next to the team store just inside the main gate. There is little here in terms of history, a few painted pennants on the Pirates bullpen wall recognize the club's World Series titles. There were also a few pictures of Marauders in the Majors, but given the team's short history, the list was rather small. Lots of room to fill up over the coming years though.
The team runs some interesting promotions, including one where a couple has to burst some balloons by pressing their bodies together in any way possible, lending new meaning to Bradenton's boast as "The Friendly City".
Overall, McKechnie Field has much more of a true minor league feel than most of the other stadiums in the FSL. Well worth visiting when you are in the Tampa Bay area.
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