BRADENTON - After watching Sarasota and Port Charlotte refurbish their baseball stadiums to attract new teams, Bradenton wanted to upgrade the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And, on the year it turns 90, McKechnie Field gets a facelift.
Bradenton has a long-term lease with the Pirates, but the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers in recent years have both moved their spring training operations to Arizona. And renovations at Mckechnie Field aim not just to keep one team in one city, but to help keep spring training in Florida.
“We're actually split between Arizona and Florida with the number of teams (that each state has)," says Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston. “We used to have them all.”
So even with more than 25 years left on a long-term lease with the Pirates, Poston says the city needed to bring its venerable old stadium into the 21st century. “It's an economic development tool that makes sense for us,” he says, especially since bed taxes will pay for it, not those on local residents.
“We would never even look at another facility,” says Trevor Gooby, the Pirates Director of Florida Operations. “The city and the county have really been tremendous.” But he says the team also wanted a stadium with more of the amenities people expect to see at stadiums now. Baseball, it seems, is but one thing people come to a baseball game to see. “I have young kids,” Gooby says. “They want to come out, see the mascot, eat a hotdog, drink a soda, and run around.”
There will be spaces to do that. More restrooms and concessions. And a party deck that groups can rent. The upgrades will make McKechnie able to host other events, from youth sports tournaments to concerts. And if it still takes imagination to see all that, it still looks good to Wayne Poston.
“Just fabulous,” he says, looking at the construction site. “I can't stop smiling about it.”
The contractor doing the work on the stadium says that his crews have a lot of work to do, but that it will finish the job by February 22nd, when the Pirates play their first spring training game there.