Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fans Ready to Party at McKechnie Field

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fans Ready to Party at McKechnie Field

Article excerpt

BRADENTON

PIRATES: Stadium makeover is a big hit with players and fans

The newly renovated McKechnie Field unveiled Sunday is no longer just a spring training baseball diamond -- it's a jewel of an entertainment complex for social gatherings where the game is almost a sideshow.

Fans who attended Sunday's 2013 Grapefruit League home opener to watch the Pirates beat the Braves 9-2, expressed amazement at the makeover.

"I keep spinning in a circle, my mouth is still hanging open," said Joan Grohe, a Pirates fan who has been coming to McKechnie Field for 26 years.

She left her reserved seat along the third base line to visit the party deck in right field before the game.

"They kept the heritage of the old McKechnie Field and out here it's rocking awesome," Grohe said. "It's kind of like the best of both worlds."

"Everybody is excited as they can be about this," said John Horne of Bradenton. "This is going to be a great 'shot in the arm' for Bradenton."

Fans most enjoy being able to circulate the entire circumference of the field via the boardwalk. Many who had seats in the grandstand, like Jack Walsh of Sar-asota, decided once they got to the party deck that the atmosphere was too exciting to leave.

"You can go 360 degrees," said Jim Tomlinson of Bradenton. "You can get the perspective where you like to see the game and you can be there. It's just perfect."

"Accessibility is great," said Jason Smith of Bradenton. "You can come hang out with your friends. It's more of a community atmosphere. I'd rate this higher than Ed Smith Stadium."

Other fans, seated on the far side of the Kona Brewing Tiki bar beyond center field, barely knew a game was being played on the other side of the bar.

They had a better view of the Daytona 500, which was being shown on flat screen TVs above the bar.

The party deck atmosphere was so enticing that Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass decided to watch the game from there, because he didn't have to work, since the game was not being broadcast back to Pittsburgh.

"This is dazzling beyond belief," said Blass, a former Pirates pitcher. "It's gorgeous. There's no mistakes. They kept the old intimacy, the old ambiance. I don't know how they could have done it better. I wish I was still playing."

Bill Mazeroski, the Pirates Hall of Famer who went through spring training in Bradenton for the last five years of his career, from 1969-73, was equally stunned.

"It's fantastic," Mazeroski said. "Holy cow, I never thought I'd see this place looking like that. It's as good as anything down here (in Florida)."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the effect of the new amenities has filtered down to the field.

"There's definitely a different buzz and a different 'vibe' to the ballpark," Hurdle said. "You just hear the 'buzz' in the stands. …

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