For those of you who have never made the trip to Bradenton in March, you are in for a special treat today. We have a guest report from Jason Padula, who attended the Pirates-Twins game on March 8 at McKechnie Field. Thanks to Jason for the willingness to share his experience with us. Here is his story.
So, I lived in the ‘Burgh for my entire life. In July of 2007 I moved to Tampa, FL for a great job opportunity, and not to mention GREAT weather! Upon moving, there were 3 things that were always on my mind. See, living in Pittsburgh your entire life, and being devoted to the home team for all those years, was going to be a hard thing moving so far from home. So, one of the first things I did was look into these 3 things…
#1) How many Steeler games would I see? Or how many Steeler bars were around? Lucky me, there are plenty of Steeler fans down here. Also, there are many Steeler bars. So I was 1-for-1
#2) How many Penguin games would I get to see? Again, the Pens played in Tampa twice (and won). Occasionally, I did see a game on television thanks to the Versus Network.
#3) How many Pirate games would I see? Looking ahead at the schedule I saw that the Buccos did not play any of their 162 games here. But then I rememberedÖSpring Training in Bradenton!
Now, we all know Spring Training doesnít provide us with some of the most exciting games, but it was maybe all I had. And what better way to see the current Pirates and the future of the ball club. Luckily, my girlfriendís parents were coming down, and surprised us with tickets to the March 8th game against the Twins. This would be my first trip to Spring Training so I had no idea what to expect.
Driving across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay was one of the coolest things. Although there was a wind advisory slowing us down, it made the view last longer. Like I said, pulling into Bradenton, I didnít know what to expect. In the distance, of what seemed to be a long city street, were the new lights of McKechnie Field. They built the lights to have night games, but for some reason only scheduled 2 (and one was rained out already). McKechnie Field is a very basic ball park. Parking can be troublesome, because there is no parking lot. Local businesses, and even front yards of neighborhood housing around the park offer parking in their lots (or yards) for $5.
Walking into the park was different then walking into any other park. For one it is much smaller, seating a little more than 6,000 fans. The seating consists of bleachers (on the baselines of the outfield) and bucket seating in the infields and behind home plate. The only thing that was uncomfortable was when people would try to get out of their seats between innings and the seats didnít fold up. Needless to say, you were much closer to the fans when they would pass than usual. The atmosphere was great though! Seeing the Buccos for the first time in months felt really good. With the park being smaller, you feel like you are right there with the players. At times you could even hear the occasional conversation between players.
Now onto the game, which wasnít the most exciting Pirate game I have ever seen. The pitching struggled, hitting was sparse, and we seemed to look like the Pirates of the past 15 years. With that said, in the bottom of the 4th Adam LaRoche and Ryan Doumit had back-to-back homeruns to give me some hope that maybe we just got off to a slow start. But then the bases were loaded, with no outs, and you see where I am going. Nyjer Morgan and Jack Wilson both struck out, and Nate McLouth had a hard line drive caught in right field. This was easily the most exciting inning of the game, but at the same time, seemed to be the same old Buccos.
I will say that Ryan Doumit, if he can stay healthy, looks like he will be a stud this year. He was hitting the ball like a man eager to earn, and keep, a starting role. Maholm looked pretty good. He was getting ground balls and seemed to be throwing well. I canít say that I saw much to be excited about, but I am that typical long-time Pirate fan that still holds on to that little hope that all this rebuilding (15 years now) will pay off. We all know it is hard to be a Pirates fan these days but the true fans still love them. There are plenty of fair-weathered fans out there who like them when they win, and despise them when they lose. I donít know what is more frustrating sometimes, the Pirates losing for 15 straight years, or the fair-weathered fans.
Although we lost, and unfortunately the Pirates look to be heading towards another losing season, it was great to see them play. I know Iím not going to see a lot of games living down here, so it was great to get out there and root for my home team again. Good Luck Buccos!! You have a true fan that will be rooting for you from Tampa! And hopefully I will get to go home for a few games at PNC Park, or they will play close enough for a road trip!
This is when I do the Bobby Hill DanceÖand say farewell!