Day 8 - March 13, 2013 - Blue Jays-Pirates @ Bradenton
Day 8 in my Spring Training trip had me in Bradenton, Florida, which is the long time home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. First, for the game. The Blue Jays jumped out to an early lead, then after a lot of scoreless innings, the Pirates marked a come back with a run in the 8th, tying it in the 9th, and winning 5-4 in 10 innings. That was in front of a record crowd at 90 year old McKechnie Field.
For the ballpark. It's 90 years old, and still shows the old time charm of a small minor league ballpark (think a modern day version of the ballparks used in the movie A League Of Their Own. There's an old fashioned grandstand with bleacher seating down both foul lines and extended "box" seating (regular seats, as opposed to bleachers) behind home plate under the press box behind the inner concourse. There is also "box" seating in front of the concourse closest to the field all the way down both lines and behind home plate. Very good sight lines (although the seams in the screen behind home plate, where the backstop and screen have some angles does get in the way) all around. One thing that I like is that with it being a smaller park, they can orient screen on top of the seats behind home plate from the top of the vertical screen up to the press box, thereby further protecting the home plate seats. That's a lot of words, but I like that feature. Most parks I've seen don't have that (and have much much wider gaps between the top of the vertical screen and the press box behind home plate making it hard to have a top screen).
The outer concourse behind/underneath the grandstand is at street level with a narrow concourse behind third and home (along 9th St) and a very wide concourse behind first base. The Pirates also have their clubhouse on the 1B/RF side, with the concourse ending in RF at a fence where fans crowd during the game to try to get Pirates autographs. This is the main concourse, open to the elements, with the large food concession stands and the main team store and ticket office near the front.
The ballpark underwent some renovations for the 2013 Spring Training that included the addition of a new outfield boardwalk that creates a 360 degree concourse/walkway and also includes a party deck in LF and a tiki bar in Right-Center Field. The boardwalk also has OF bleacher seating in LF, lots of concession carts, and bathrooms and a covered area behind the batter's eye in CF. In addition, there are places to look down to the two bullpens (behind the LF wall for the visitors and behind the RF wall for the home teams). It's a very nice addition.
A few interesting notes with the Pirates Spring Training facilities. The Pirates have their training fields in another location in Bradenton. The ballpark is more of a neighborhood facility in town with parking in small lots in facilities adjacent to the ballpark. It was also only in the past couple years that lights were added to the stadium (there is also a minor league team that plays there). The Pirates Parrot is seen throughout the game doing its thing, which includes a lot of mimicry during the pre-game time (if players are stretching, the Parrot will try to do it too; if the players are throwing, the Parrot will be out there with its glove - at this game, one of the Blue Jays players saw that and included the Parrot in the pre-game game of catch that he was having with a teammate). There is also a Pirate mascot for the local minor league team that works with the Parrot in some of the stunts, including their own pre-game game of catch.
Autographs seem to be easy down the foul liens and near the dugouts, but it's always subject to what players are willing to stop and interact with the fans. The clubhouses are not attached to the dugouts, so the players have to enter/exit the field down the foul lines. On the Pirates end, there is an extra gap at the end of the RF foul line seating where the batting cage is stored, which is out of play, where a generous player can stop and sign for fans along the side rail as he leaves the field. I did see this go on during play. The only autograph I was able to get, just because of my moving around, was ex-Met Mike Nickeas, who was catching for the Blue Jays in this game.
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