While in the Tampa region for a conference, I aimed to visit as many of the area Minor League Baseball stadiums. From downtown Tampa, where I stayed for the conference, there are five minor league teams within an hour drive. So after committing to watching a Clearwater Threshers game (more on that visit here), I had to choose between the other ballparks to visit.
Eventually I decided to make a trip to the south end of Tampa Bay, and visit the Bradenton Marauders. I decided to visit Bradenton for a few reasons. 1: It is near DeSoto National Memorial, and visiting NPS sites is another one of my traveling objectives. 2: The Marauders are a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, and with my family roots in Pittsburgh it felt appropriate to visit a Bucs’ farm team. 3: I’ve read and heard stories about McKichnie Field being a great venue.
McKichnie Field has a unique history because it has hosted Spring Training games since it was built in 1923, but did not have a minor league team for several years because the stadium lacked lights. Lights went up in 2008, and in 2010 the Marauders came into existence.
Unlike many of my other recent Minor League Baseball stadium visits, I did not have anything to prepare me for the visit because Benjamin Hill from MiLB.com has not visited Bradenton yet. I was excited about exploring a place that Ben hasn’t visited, and it guaranteed that I would be getting to the stadium as soon as the gates opened so I could explore as much of the ballpark as possible before the game began.
The stadium is at the intersection of two major roads, so it lacks the parking lots that have become commonplace with ballparks. In my case, a colleague told me that parking was limited and encouraged me to park far enough away from the stadium to avoid having my car struck by a foul ball. As I wrapped up my visit to DeSoto National Memorial around five o’clock, I knew that I would have some time to kill before the gates opened. Along 9th Street I unexpectedly found Motorworks Brewing, and stopped in for a couple of beers to kill the 30 minutes before the gates opened. After asking the bartender how much further to the stadium, he said I could leave my car in the lot and walk the three blocks. Not everybody may be as lucky, but I saw that some small lots surrounding the stadium charged $5 for parking.
Walking up to the stadium there are a series of banners.
|Bradenton will be hosting its first Florida State League All-Star Game this year.|
The second set of banners…
|McKechnie Stadium has hosted Pirates Spring Training since 1969.|
Like many facilities that host Spring Training, McKechnie Field has decor that promotes its springtime residents: the Pittsburgh Pirates. The box office reflects this with markings for the Pirates and Marauders.
|The box office and main gate.|
One of my first stops at a stadium is the gift store to get something for my friend’s 3-year-old son. Usually I buy a soft baseball or the mascot depending upon what the store carries. The gift store at McKechnie Field is small, so I didn’t bother taking a photo of it. However, just outside the store was the up-to-date Florida State League standings and the night’s starting lineups.
|The night’s starting lineups along with directions to the Clubhouse Store.|
While the Marauders don’t have a large gift shop, I had a great experience mostly due to the team’s general manager, A.J. Grant. In addition to looking for a soft baseball and the mascot, I wanted to get a polo shirt with the Marauders logo on it. The store didn’t have any polo shirts on display, but after I asked the workers for help A.J. quickly tracked down a selection of shirts. I opted for a black shirt with the alternate logo, and I’m hopeful the team will introduce a shirt with the stylized B on it.
After completing my most important task, I explored the selections at the concession stands. First up was the Pirates Cove Grill…
|Pirates Cove Grill concession stand.|
Just down from the Pirates Cove Grill was the Yuengling Plaza Bar, so no food but a variety of beer choices.
|According to the bartender, it is packed during Spring Training.|
The Yuengling Plaza Bar has one especially unique tap: Pirate Brew Reserve.
|Pirate Brew Reserve a.k.a. Pabst Blue Ribbon.|
As I hadn’t found any really unique food, I continued exploring the ballpark and ventured out to the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction in right field. However, before I got there I encounter the Marauders’ mascot, Marty.
|I ran into Marty as I was heading to the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction, so I got my mascot photo done early.|
After getting my picture taken with Marty, I made it to the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction. It was Thirsty Thursday, so there were a lot of people already hanging out at the Kona Bar. While I don’t consider myself a beer snob, I wasn’t excited about the prospects of $1 Bud or Bud Light so I was standing at the bar waffling before a couple in their 20s came up and the guy offered to buy me a Bud. I wasn’t about to refuse a free drink, so it was Buds all around!
|The Kona Bar built by NDC Construction was a popular spot on Thirsty Thursday.|
As I talked with the couple, I told them I was a geography professor at The University of Alabama, which was met with a groan from the guy. He was a graduate of Auburn University, and was a bit dismayed about buying me a beer in hindsight. However, he was gracious about it and the pair recommended I ask for a deep fried hot dog at the main concession stand if I wanted something unique to eat.
After finishing my beer, I continued walking around the stadium and made sure to get to my seat so I could catch the first pitch.
|First pitch between the Palm Beach Cardinals and Bradenton Marauders.|
Before hunting down the deep fried hot dog, I watched a few innings from my seat right behind home plate. It allowed me to take this photo…
|Palm Beach designated hitter Alex Mejia taking swings on deck.|
When I got to the stadium, I asked workers what they considered the most unique food item that I should eat and all of them said that there wasn’t anything unique or special that I had to eat. The menu choices were not bad, but just the standard ballpark fare. When I went back to Pirates Cove Grill, I asked for the manager and requested a deep fried hot dog with nacho cheese.
|Deep fried hot dog with nacho cheese and pickled jalapenos.|
The hot dog was good, but not great. I would have it again though. I later found A.J. Grant and asked him about why the stadium didn’t have Primanti Brothers sandwiches, which are a famous Pittsburgh food item and available at PNC Park. Grant said that Primanti Brothers would only open a location if they could get the bread specifically used for their sandwiches, so until Mancini’s Bakery makes their bread available in the Tampa Bay area there will be no Primanti Brothers available at McKechnie Field.
Moving along from food, I took a few shots of game action to capture a fuller sense of the ballpark. So as I walked around a bit during the game, I snapped this shot…
|Palm Beach starting pitcher Mike Mayers delivering the pitch to Bradenton designated hitter Max Moroff.|
I also got a different view of the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction.
|The Kona Bar built by NDC Construction with the batter’s eye.|
And this view of the stands in left field….
|The left field bleachers were nearly barren.|
Along the exterior of the seating bowl, a variety of banners promote the Pirates, Marauders, and their sponsors.
|Banners on the backside of the seating bowl.|
While McKechnie Field may not have a signature food item, it certainly has a variety of unique beers. In addition to Yuengling being served at the stadium, a concession stand called The Pitt-Stop had a wide variety of beers.
|The Pitt-Stop and its selection of beers.|
The selection at The Pitt-Stop was great. The stand had a wide variety of imported beers, domestic craft beers, but most importantly it had some Pittsburgh staples like Iron City and I.C. Light. As a good son of Pittsburghers, I had an Iron City Beer while enjoying the game. Even if fans don’t want an Iron City there are lots of options for beer connoisseurs.
Like many minor league games I have attended, the Marauders conclude the night’s festivities with launch-a-ball. I’m used to hearing it called tennis ball toss, but regardless of the moniker the result is the same. Fans get an opportunity to throw tennis balls onto the field aiming for a selection of targets to win prizes.
|Marty checking the tire to see if anybody won the launch-a-ball contest.|
There were no winners from the launch-a-ball contest, but I certainly came away a winner after my experience in Bradenton. Yes, I was disappointed that there were no unique food items that I “had” to eat. No, the lack of a marquee food item did not deter from my enjoyment at McKechnie Field.
Yes, the stadium has a wide selection of quality beers. What the Marauders lack in the food department, the beer offerings more than make-up for it.
Most importantly, the hospitality of the staff stands out. Every staffer that I spoke with about food or while perusing the Clubhouse Store was extremely helpful, and made sure that I found anything I wanted. It was great that someone attending the game as a fan, and not a member of the media was able to talk with the team’s general manager when running into him on the concourse or while getting help looking for a polo shirt.